’Flygskam’, or flight shame, has become a buzz word referring to feeling guilt over the environmental effects of flying, contributing to a trend that has more and more Swedes, mainly young, opting to travel by train to ease their conscience. Saddled with long dark winters at home, Swedes have for decades been frequent flyers seeking out sunnier climes. But a growing number are changing their ways because of air travel’s impact on the climate.
According to SilverRail, the Swedish distributor for the tickets, sales rose 85 percent in the first seven months of the year, with 17,000 tickets sold. Interrail tickets allow users to travel on trains across Europe for a set number of days, paying only reservation fees for the faster express services.
Jonas Falk, Silverrail’s sales chief, told The Local that he thought sales would continue to increase and might even grow five-fold in the coming years. ”I think it will go on increasing, absolutely,” he said. ”I think it’s absolutely possible that we will sell 100,000 Interrail tickets within five years.”
Sweden is trend-oriented: if there’s a new trend, everyone will follow it. At Hamburg central station it felt like the whole of Sweden was taking the train to somewhere else in Europe. You could hear snatches of Swedish everywhere. An entire handball team from Gothenburg was going by rail to a tournament in Austria.
Spearheading the movement for trains-over-planes is Sweden’s own Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate school striker who refuses to fly, travelling by rail to the World Economic Forum in Davos and the climate summit in Katowice, Poland. A growing number of public figures have vowed to #stayontheground, including Swedish television skiing commentator Bjorn Ferry who said last year he would only travel to competitions by train.
Yet Sweden isn’t the only place feeling the effects of flygskam (in fact, the Dutch, Germans, and Finns have their own words for it). Flygfritt now has chapters in the UK, France, and Germany and according to Eurail and Interrail General Manager Carlo Boselli, flygskam is influencing the decision to purchase the rail passes (which allow for cross-border travel anywhere on the continent) as well. “According to an internal survey we did,” Boselli says, “the low carbon footprint of rail travel was relevant in the decision about holiday transportation for 71% of Interrailers in 2019–nearly 20% more than in 2017.”
Europe’s largest international passenger rail company, the Austrian ÖBB, has seen a 10% growth this spring and summer over 2018 on some of its lines, including the ones that run from Vienna to Zurich, and Rome to Munich. Spokesman Bernhard Rieder cautions that, in high season, they could do much more.
It is the season of flygskam, or “flight shame.” You don’t have to be Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist who recently announced plans to sail to New York in August, to recognize that a growing number of Europeans eager to reduce their carbon footprint are opting to limit air travel in favor of more environmentally-friendly means of transportation. Significant enough that even airlines are taking note, flygskam–and its counterpart tagskryt, or train-bragging—is encouraging both European governments and private rail companies to consider investing in the return of long-distance night trains. But the revival of a form of transport that has long seemed consigned to the pages of Agatha Christie novels poses significant obstacles of its own.