Got flight shame? Would you pay more to make it up to the climate?

Rainer Romero-Canyas

Flight shame — that guilty feeling for traveling by air because of its large impact on the climate — is making some customers think twice before flying.

Ridiculing people for traveling by plane has even gone mainstream: Celebrities like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have faced public scorn for their jet-setting.

Airline emissions are slated to triple in the coming decades, absent policy change, making aviation one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon pollution worldwide.

If you fly, those trips are probably the largest part of your carbon footprint. So, would you pay to make it up to the climate?

Your answer might hinge on the information you get when you book your flight.

What consumers want to know before paying more

A new study from the University of British Columbia and EDF suggests consumers are willing to pay more to fly responsibly — provided they have assurance that the extra payment actually goes to cut emissions.

We gave 588 Americans short descriptions of potential policies to address the impact their flight’s carbon dioxide emissions have on the environment.

We asked participants to imagine they were planning a vacation to an island and showed them five pairs of similarly priced flights, asking them to choose a flight in each pair.

One of the flights in each of the pairs included an additional $14 line item described as the additional cost related to the policy description they had just read.

We found that as long as consumers have information about the carbon-related fee, they are willing to pay more for their airline tickets.

We also discovered that consumers are more willing to pay for an “offset” — a way to finance environmental projects that keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere — versus a “tax.”

Why it’s important — especially now

Our research, which you can read in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, shows that consumers want airlines to take responsibility for flight emissions. And they’re willing to pay more for tickets, if they can be assured the money will go toward reducing emissions.

This is a meaningful finding, especially now, as airlines prepare to limit carbon emissions of international flights.

Flight shame may prompt consumers to choose cleaner transport, such as rail or sail. But it’s clear that where such options aren’t available, the climate can benefit if airlines create high-integrity programs to reduce and offset emissions.

Whether the practice becomes widespread will depend on consumers like you.