What is flygskam?

Flygskam or ‘flight-shaming’ is an environmental movement across Europe which is encouraging people to stop taking flights as a means of transport.


When I get into power (any moment now // “at least buy a lottery ticket!”), I’ll start by removing work travel from the tax deductible category.

Tax deductible expenses are almost any “ordinary, necessary, and reasonable” expenses that help to earn business income. Deductible expenses are those that can be subtracted from a company’s income before it is subject to taxation. When it comes to what exactly is meant by ordinary, necessary, and reasonable expenses, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has defined these as any expenses that are “helpful and appropriate” for a business. The standard business deductions—which include general and administrative expenses, business-related travel and entertainment, automobile expenses, and employee benefits—are outlined in Section 162 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Inc. (Couldn’t find a EU reference, sorry)

My unpopular (and possibly misguided) opinion is that 80% of work related flight is unnecessary. You have video conference, Slack, telepresence, and work package based delivery; there are things you need real facetime for, but again, I think this is 20% of all of them. Additionally, I am convinced that out of those necessary trips, around half could be substituted with train rides. (In Europe, that is. Rather not get into discussing the state of infrastructure in the US.)

For example.

If you need to travel from (let’s take a typical example) Amsterdam to London, you can take a flight to Gatwick with a duration of 1:15 (1 hours 15 minutes). Add to this the overhead: 1:30 for security at Schiphol, let’s say 45 minutes to get to and from the airport (at Schiphol probably a bit less, at Gatwick surely a bit more). You total at 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Now, take the train: with a combo of Thalys and Eurostar, leaving from, and arriving to, city centre, you end up at (let’s check it quickly) 4 hours and 58 mins. So, 45 mins of difference, plus all the diff in comfort and (lack of) CO².

But with London, you can of course travel to City Airport (which they should really close by now), so there is a very quick flight alternative if you’re very busy and put up a bit more dough.

But for another example, Amsterdam to Paris:

  • by train: 3:23 city centre to city centre
  • by plane: 1:15 flight + 1:30 airport security + 0:45 to and 0:45 from airport = 4:15

Amsterdam to Brussels is even better:

  • by plane: 0:45 flight (ridiculous) + 0:45 to and 0:45 from airport + 1:30 airport security = 3:45
  • by train, to and from city centre: 2:03

(To and from airport is of course not always 0:45. Amsterdam is typically good in this respect, train puts you literally in the middle of the airport. In return, you spend long ten minutes in taxi on the runway, sitting in the plan post landing waiting for a parking spot, waiting for your luggage if you had one, etc. So I think 45 minutes to and from airport is a good assumption.)

On the flip side, Amsterdam to Berlin is a bit different:

  • by plane: 1:15 flight + 1:30 airport security + 0:45 to and 0:45 from airport = 4:15
  • by train to and from city centre: 6:22

And if I want to go to, say, Copenhagen from Amsterdam… my best option is a 14 hour bus trip.

So if you just look at the time, train starts being subpar if you travel to more than about 600 km.

So anyhow.

Let’s make business flight non tax deductible. Business travel that is actually crucial will still happen; companies will still have to pay these. But there will be a challenge on the rest.

(If we get in hippie land I could also propose that instead of flying to Berlin to meet someone, both people could travel to, let’s say, Frankfurt, by train, and meet there. For complicated negotiations it might actually make sense to literally meet halfway… gives off a good message.)

I really can’t find a good statistics on how much of all flights is actually for business. For China, leisure seems to be “more than half” of the journeys (according to NatGeo), for US, business travel seems to be 31% (according to this pdf), and according to yahoo!answers, it should be somewhere between 35 and 45 percent. With numbers like these, unfortunately those leisure flights will still have to be taxed under my New World Order. Sorry, folks.

(Header image by me.)

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