Oh, you smygflygare. Once you’ve got the Swedish pronunciation sorted (smurg-flurg-aray – obviously), you’re probably poised to say, why thank you! Me? Smyg! Of course! (*flicks hair*). Being called anything Swedish makes you feel cooler, doesn’t it? More able to pull off a rectangular Cos smock dress or say that hipster backpack brand beginning with ‘Fjä…’. We covet everything Swedish, from their style bloggers and their cinnamon buns to their flatpack bookcase. But are we ready to travel Scandi?
Because, it turns out, being a smygflygare is bad. It means a ‘sneak flyer’ – as in, ‘I told my boss I was taking the train to Edinburgh, but I secretly flew’. It’s the latest buzzword in the flygskam – or flight shame – movement, which, spurred by the aviation industry’s hefty contribution to global carbon emissions, has Swedes shunning the skies for rail and sea. Take 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who hasn’t flown since 2015 and spent two weeks in a solar and hydro-powered yacht to travel to New York in August. It means ‘sneak flying’ has gone from the stuff of cheeky winks (like having a wine at lunch instead of a matcha green tea kefir smoothie) to a full-blown side-eye. It’s now the transportation equivalent of putting £1 in the workplace whip-round but leaving the office with groceries from Harrods’ food hall.
Experts believe this new Nordic eco-consciousness will filter south. ‘Scandinavia is a true cross-cultural trendsetter, whether we’re talking about cuisine and minimalist interior design, or a liberal, humanist political stance on gay rights, feminism and parental leave,’ describes Jenny Southan, editor and founder of travel trend forecasting agency Globetrender. ‘When it comes to change, people like a concept to latch on to – which is why buzzwords have such an effect on society.’
As an increasing number of Scandinavians follow Thunberg's example – a Facebook group, Tågsemester, where people post photos of their train holidays, now has over 101,000 members – words such as flygskam (‘flight shame’) and tågskryt (‘train bragging’) will almost certainly catch on here, too. Impressive, considering no one knows how to pronounce them. ‘Our attitude to flying is already changing,’ confirms Southan. ‘Stories in the press that shame public figures for their use of private jets, such as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, reflect this shift in opinion.’
cinque terre, italy i getty images
That said, even with a spike in green Instagram hashtags such as #staygrounded and #flightguilt, research by Climate Perks found that while 50 per cent of people say they’re ready to reduce the amount they fly, only 3 per cent will actually act on that impulse. Global air travel is still set to rise to 8.2 billion passengers a year by 2037. And unless we want to spend half our annual leave en route to our destinations, the ‘sneak flyer’ isn’t completely outlawed from society. Well, yet. Until everyone is flygfritt – or ‘air-free’ – here’s how to fly and not hate yourself…
Sure, it’s more cramped than a sample sale, but that’s good – more passengers per plane means fewer carbon emissions per passenger. Proof? A World Bank study found that first-class flyers can have a carbon footprint seven times higher than someone in seat 36E.
The most fuel is used during take-off and landing, so lay off the layovers – a stopover can increase your carbon emissions by 35 per cent.
If there’s ever a reason not to pack that fifth pair of shoes it’s to consider that the heavier the aircraft is, the more fuel it will burn through. ‘Getting out everything that you think you need and then halving it is a good trick,’ suggests Justin Francis, CEO of sustainable travel company Responsible Travel.
And, no, that fifth pair of shoes does not count. This is about cutting down on cabin waste: a reusable drinks cup or food container, say. In the future, it’s thought customisable cabins will allow us to pre-select everything we’ll need for the flight, such as one vegan meal and no duty-free shopping, so the plane doesn’t waste fuel carrying non-essentials.
Do you really need an in-person trip, or will remote working cut it? If you do have to go, check out rail-hack website Seat 61.
Look for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) or biofuels, plus new planes. It’s estimated that an aircraft’s efficiency goes up 15 per cent every 10 years due to advances in technology and construction materials.
‘This has been available for years, but suddenly it's something people are realising that we have to take responsibility for,’ says Jenny Southan. Basically, you add a certain amount onto your flight fee in order to finance clean energy and tree-planting projects that cancel out the carbon dioxide your journey emits. Of course, it’s a rough science – you don’t know if those trees will remove 100 per cent of your long haul’s damage. But it’s a start – for the planet, and for your peace of mind.