Lufthansa CEO: “Flight Shaming” Is “Fake News”

Filed Under: Lufthansa

To me, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr is one of the least likable people in the airline industry. That brings us to the comments that he made during the IATA Wings of Change conference, which took place in Berlin last week.

Lufthansa CEO Calls Flight Shaming “Fake News”

As reported by Simple Flying, during a presentation last week, Spohr referred to those who are “flight shaming” as peddling “fake news.” Here’s the argument he made about how the airline industry is working towards reducing emissions, and how the industry on the whole is vilified too much:

“Airlines should not have to be seen as a symbol of climate change. That’s just fake news.

Our industry contributes 2.8% of global CO2 emissions. As I’ve asked before, how about the other 97.2%? Are they contributing to global society with as much good as we do? Are they reducing emissions as much as we do?

Don’t get me wrong. This does not release us from the responsibility to act to drive down emissions, as we have done over the past 10 years. Now, there is just a little more rational discussion required of being healthy, for all of us around the world to deal with this important topic.”

My Take On Spohr’s Comments

The substance of what Spohr is saying isn’t wrong, in my opinion. That’s to say that the airline industry is becoming more efficient, yet it’s often treated as an industry that makes no effort to improve their environmental impact, and that’s not the case.

The reality is that the airline industry is becoming better environmentally, not necessarily because they actually care, but because fuel efficient planes save them money. That’s a good thing. That’s something Spohr went on to say, quite candidly:

“We do not need to be ‘woken up’ to saving fuel. Fuel is 20 to 25% of our costs. We’ve been trying to drive costs down for years!”

That being said:

  • It seems like poor judgment to use the term “fake news” for anything related to the discussion of climate change, unless you’re looking to annoy a lot of people
  • 2.8% ultimately is a significant percentage of global emissions; he seems to use that number in a way that suggests that’s not a big percentage, but to me it sure seems like it is

The reality is that the airline industry is doing much better than the energy industry on the whole when it comes to reducing emissions. So while the airline industry isn’t the biggest polluter, it’s an easy target, given that it’s one that people frequently interact with directly, and also given that it’s viewed as being largely unnecessary.

The Irony Of Spohr’s Comments

It’s interesting to compare Spohr’s comments above to his comments from a few months ago. Over the summer, Spohr conveniently called the cheap flights offered by ultra low cost carriers ecologically irresponsible.

As he explained, airlines selling flights for less than 10EUR (~11USD) is “economically, ecologically, and politically irresponsible.” He said that “flights for less than 10EUR shouldn’t exist.”

Of course these comments were incredibly self-serving — they were made as EasyJet and Ryanair are increasing flights to Lufthansa’s home markets.

It also comes as Lufthansa’s own ultra low cost carrier, Eurowings, struggles to compete.

You’ve gotta wonder what the real “fake news” is here.

Bottom Line

I do think the airline industry is disproportionately attacked when it comes to their emissions, because they’re an easy target. That’s not to say that the people attacking them are wrong, as there are definitely things the airline industry can and should do to improve.

In many ways I think the pressure on airlines is good, as it will hopefully lead to expedited change.

That being said, there’s a real irony to Spohr first calling ultra low cost carriers “ecologically irresponsible,” and then suggesting that those targeting the airline industry for climate change are peddling “fake news.”

What do you make of Spohr’s comments?

  1. But for a subset of rich predominantly Western people, flying is an enormous part of our personal carbon footprint.

    Yes, I want China to stop building coal power plants, but that has to be meditated through international diplomacy and pressure.

    When I look at my own climate impacts, flying less is hands down the easiest and cheapest way to do it.

    When China and India start flying as much as Germans, if they do it with current technology, flying emissions will rise to 15-20% of global emissions (IATAs own numbers).

    It’s a moral and reasonable choice to withhold revenue from businesses oriented around burning hundreds of gallons of fuel for a single passenger in a premium class for a single long haul flight until the technology improves.

  2. @lucky : lemme guess this straight …. so you have an issue with Spohr’s rhetoric, but you have no qualms about flying unnecessary status running flights that aren’t part of the reviews you post ?

    Those aren’t “empty seats anyway” cuz the fuel consumption and emissions still increases per passenger.

    what have YOU done personally to help the cause of climate change ?

  3. My opinion is, he’s mostly right. Of course, he’s not actually being honest enough.
    “Flight Shame” is a wholly Swedish concept. That bastion of social justice to the north that social justice has completely screwed up. There isn’t much irony in his statement either. I’ll elaborate.

    Major airlines like Lufthansa, Qantas, British Airways and Singapore Airlines have in fact been working to reduce fuel consumption. This of course is more about the bottom line than it is about the environment.
    Easyjet and Ryanair have not been working to increase the amount of routes they fly. This would increase their general fuel consumption. Of course, they drive down their prices to compete with the larger flag carriers to get more cheap passengers.

    If you were the type to believe in anthropomorphic climate change, then those cheap flights would be more detrimental to the environment than any flight taken by a national flag carrier.

    Of course, you’d have to believe that anthropomorphic climate change is a real thing first for any of this to actually matter. Climate change has become a cult movement for the middle and upper classes. They’ve reinvented Catholicism, complete with original sin and the indulgences to pay your sins away. The entire movement has become extremist and is best ignored like much of the extremism in the world.

  4. ‘Are they contributing to global society with as much good as we do?’ Ugh, he’s running an airline business not a food bank for the homeless! Does he really think he’s ‘doing good’? Perhaps the 5 star Skytrax rating went to his head.
    I agree with Lucky, when this guy speaks his comments seem so out of touch and so arrogant. I wouldn’t care if LH was a beacon of excellence, but it’s the epitome of mediocrity ( besides First Cabins) and their strategy is all over the place. Any why can I still not select a seat on an LX sector if I book via LH website when they are in the same group!!!

  5. You want to reduce your “carbon foot print”? Commit suicide.
    No more airplane trips, no more driving your car, no more farthing, and best of all: no more exhaling carbon dioxide.

    Enough already with “extremists” telling other people how to live and behave.

  6. An interesting calculator that lets you see how an individual flight contributes to a specific outcome: Arctic sea ice loss.

    I’m not saying that flying should be outlawed, I’m saying we need to pressure airlines to invest in seriously transformative technologies (not 5% decreased fuel burn with a new generation of engine). Frankly, the blog should give this more coverage.

    An interesting write-up on NASAs recent work towards the certification process for electric aircraft in the US:

  7. It’s hard to take seriously the claim that the airline industry is doing everything they can, when you have United launching a 50pax service on an airplane that fits 76 only because of arbitrary union rules.

    It’s even harder to take seriously when airlines fly around with 2 room suites and showers that half the time are empty because it’s a status thing.

    On a per person basis, ultra low cost carriers cramming in as many people as physically possible on to the plane is a lot more ecologically sound than bragging about how many premium seats your airline has.

    Especially when so many of those business miles could and should be done via web conference.

  8. @ henry LAX — Virtually all of my flights are for review purposes or to visit family. I don’t do any status runs beyond that. As far as what I’m doing goes, that’s a great question. It’s something I’ve been putting a lot of thought into lately, and I plan to share details of that hopefully within the next few days, as we’re currently working on finalizing something. Thanks for the interest.

  9. All these stupid people who are afraid of the natural climate-dynamic should just shut up once and for all. We don’t need you to impose rules on us.
    Non-factual fear-mongering has never done anything good. Sitting at Starcucks, browsing some non-sense recycled fake news spreading social media while sipping on your triple soy-ified pumpkin spice grande latte does not contribute anything to society or human advancement. A gender-‘studies’ person who is living in a city and has no clue about production, agriculture etc. is in no way qualified to make statements on climate and make new rules for others.

    On the opposite, the engineer who is traveling between a technical research university and his productive company is. The research ecologist (a real scientist) who is checking climate history in the Antarctica and finding that there have always been cooler and warmer periods (the latter have always been better for human beings) is also contributing to human advancement.

    So I urge you all to stop this bullshit about horrible, man-made, climate-change and instead embrace the natural climate-dynamic. The weak may get left behind but in the long-run that’s good for the strong&smart people who are able adjust accordingly

  10. It’s not a religion I subscribe to, hence I am doing a turn SFO-EWR-SFO on the 14th of Dec on the 787-10 flights – drinks on me in EWR for any joiners. I’m sprinting to 3MM lifetime on UA before they change the rules.

  11. Lucky, why do so many of your vocal readers apparently rely exclusively on Fox News to shape their views?

  12. @Max : and exactly where did you get that “technical research university” degree ? Liberty U, Grand Canyon U, U. of Phoenix, or straight up Trump U. ?

  13. @henry LAX
    The best school is still the school of life. Being able to judge people and what they are saying is a skill that is very useful. It helps you distinguish who is making an actual point and who is just talking non-sense without any logic to back it up.

  14. When I was a kid, we were told we were all going to die because of acid rain, or because of the new ice age, or due to the ozone layer hole or we would suffocate because the Amazon would be gone.

    All these years later and everything is still fine. There are still ice caps and glaciers. It still gets cold in the winter. I won’t live my life based on people who 1) have been proven to have been wrong or outright lied in the past; 2) have financial or political interests that are tied to fear-mongering policies.

    Everything will all right. Relax and enjoy your flights and travels.

  15. He concedes the industry is part of the contribution but calls it also fake news. Two percent isn’t too insignificant. The idea that there are bigger players or other people aren’t doing their part isn’t a good reason for him and his industry to do nothing. So very “Making Airlines Great Again”, “Airlines first”.

  16. At Grumpy Texan:

    Lolz, you’ve cited numerous historical examples of how concerted international cooperation on environmental issues and new technology has delivered huge value for all of humanity. Global warming is a big issue, but it can be addressed with adequate human will and investment.

    Acid rain? Still an issue, but we put scrubbers on coal power plants and now there are still pretty European churches worth visiting.

    The ozone layer? We made international treaties to regulate CFCs and it’s healing.

    There was never broad agreement on a “new Ice Age,” (fake news from biased global warming denying loonies such as the many that make their way to these threads) the way there is virtual scientific certainty and consensus on anthropomorphic global warming.

  17. Meanwhile, Brazil has 39,000+ wild fires, Indonesia continues deforestation at a rapid pace, China blackens the landscape from unabated use of coal fired power plants, California burns tens of thousands of acres because tree huggers have banned fire breaks, India continues to exceed all the recommendations from the Paris Accords-and even burns dead bodies in funeral pyres- and man-made climate change is the fault of airlines? Hey, do as many flight reviews as you please if that’s what floats your boat.

  18. @Eric Live your life however you want. If you want to believe the fear-mongerers, that is your business. I’ve personally experienced their failed predictions and choose not to believe them

    The ozone hole isn’t healing because of international CFC treaties. The fact is the environmentalists told everyone they needed to dump their hairspray or die before the phenomenon was understood. It turned out there is a natural seasonal fluctuation in the ozone layer.

    I am confident that in a few decades we are going to know a whole lot more about the natural factors that lead to the climate changing over time than we do now. And the science that is “settled” now will not be quite so settled after more discoveries are made. The climate has been changing for billions of years and industrialization is less than 200 years old, so clearly there are natural processes and phenomenon that are being downplayed.

  19. @Grumpy Texan Travel

    Exactly right. 80s kids/90s teens grew up fearful in the face of acid rain and the ozone layer hole. These were hugely prominent environmental/climatic issues of the day, just like climate change is for today’s generation. But guess what? Decades later, we and Mother Earth are still here in more or less the same shape.

    Looking back, I resent allowing myself to be scared by the media and well meaning but idiotic zealots. But at least it had the positive effect of making me a skeptic on media driven issues and finger-wagging, self righteous prigs. I travel by air a lot while doing as much as I can to reduce my waste/consumption, and I sacrifice one weekend a month to help clean up local rivers with other volunteers. But I will never again bow down or be cowed by those Greta types!!

  20. Is Greta type of environmentalist stuipid? Yes.
    Is denying the human factors behind climate change, or denying the fact that climate change does exist stupid? Yes.

  21. ‘Flight shaming’ Is a term that needs to die a very quick death. People are making an educated decision about how to spend their money and leisure time and deciding that flying. Is something they want to do less of based on the evidence they see in front of them.

  22. @MKLDH
    The only relevant human factor that is slightly contributing to the NATURAL climate-dynamic (climate is not static but dynamic by definition, see Millions of years of earth history) is overpopulation.
    And if you want to combat that, you have to introduce former Chinese-style one-child-policy in Africa, India, Arabia.

  23. I believe the scientific consensus regarding climate change, I fly for business and for fun, and I’m not a hypocrite. Nothing happens in isolation in this world. I fly, I do my job, I make an economic contribution, the world becomes a tiny bit richer, and the world is a tiny bit more able to fund research into things like more fuel efficient airplanes. My personal (some would say selfish) travel also has a positive social and economic impact which partially or fully offsets the environmental impact of my travel. If it sounds silly or self serving, maybe it is, but I’d say it’s basic economics. The world had to have a coal burning economy to create the technical and capital base to develop a clean energy economy. Since we aren’t there yet, every day that people work, build things, and do research gets us closer. We need to do more flying, not less. We need to grow faster, not slower.

    Maybe you agree or maybe that sounds like nonsense, but here’s one thing we can all agree on: nobody should write or say “fake news” and “flight shaming” ever again, starting now.

  24. Consensus had NEVER been the scientific method

    Years ago, the consensus was the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth

    Man-made global warming/climate change is just as truthful as these older fantasies

  25. @David, when I use the word “consensus” I mean the consensus shared by the overwhelming majority of scientists that human caused climate change is real based upon each individual’s professional understanding of all available evidence. The term “consensus” is used frequently to describe that type of shared understanding. But you knew that, right?

  26. ‘ Exactly right. 80s kids/90s teens grew up fearful in the face of acid rain and the ozone layer hole. These were hugely prominent environmental/climatic issues of the day, just like climate change is for today’s generation. But guess what? Decades later, we and Mother Earth are still here in more or less the same shape.’

    The fact that we no longer have such severe problems with acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer is because of concerted international action. The Montreal protocol did a lot to ban the use of CFCs and other ozone destroying chemicals. This is an example of the kind of international action that works to solve a global environmental problem and something that the Reagan administration happily signed up to. It’s also not fair to say that the problem has gone, yes the hole in the ozone layer is now repairing itself (despite the continued illegal use of CFCs and poor disposal of older refrigerators and AC units) however as someone who lives in Australia, a country where you can’t safely leave the house on any day of the year without sunscreen, the hole in the ozone layer, which was alway worse over the South Pole, is very much still with us.

    Similarly acid rain was vastly reduced by a massive investment in flye gas desulfurisation at coal fired power plants, a transition to natural gas generation in many energy markets, an improvement in fuel standards to remove sulphur and the introduction of catalytic converters Into motor vehicles.

    These problems don’t just go away they take work, technology and international agreement to solve. Conservatives used to agree on this. Nixon brought the EPA into being. Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol and Margret Thatcher was at the forefront of driving action on climate change.

    Read a little history before you post such nonsense in future.

  27. Wow! I find the ‘head in the sand’ attitude of Americans towards climate change depressing beyond belief. Or maybe this blog has an abnormally high percentage of oil/coal-is-good conservative types (particularly from Texas).
    I have always taken the view I would like to depart this world leaving it just a little better off, not to be complicit in wilfully trashing and vandalizing it. Seems this view in no longer mainstream. Sad.

  28. @glenn t

    If some in this thread have their ‘head in the sand’ does that mean you have your ‘head in the clouds’? Sounds like it to me. Most of us are straight ‘middle of the road’ solution seekers, not extremists of either stripe.

  29. I live in Arizona people lather so much sunscreen that they have to take vitamin d because I’ve is evil
    So don’t flight shame me while you go about your wasteful ways

  30. Again, the ozone “hole” was found to be a cyclical phenomenon. All the international treaties were made based on a false or premature understanding of the science. It is a result of chemical reactions involving the sun, gases and our seasons. I know it’s very difficult to imagine the sun, which drives almost all activity on our planet, was responsible for this but there you go.

    People fell for the ozone hole hysteria because it was one of the first big environmental doomsday predictions made. Since that time about three separate predictions of “we have 10 years until our doom” have come and gone, so a good portion of the population doesn’t listen due to all the past crying wolf. The enviro activists and politicians are butthurt because people are skeptical of them now after decades of their predictions being wrong.

  31. Que? ‘head in the sand’ attitude of Americans ????? Not our problem mate. Talk to China , India and Africa. Totally serious post. Find another top 2 economy with the efficiency in a gdp/ton of C02 measure – the only thing that should matter if you truly care. Get over your totalitarian impulses and offer a true choice – i.e. this is cheaper, cleaner, better, and more reliable. The Soviet Union died for a good reason. If this is truly an existential issue there are several countries on the planet that have the means to initiate a solution – none are thinking about it, so it should tell you something. Net/net is this is a religious conversation which is pointless in this day and age. Not a single person reading this can conclusively prove that Q-Suites is the best business class , let alone do the complex math to prove anthropogenic climate change. Relax, take a mileage run (even though outdated), and enjoy life.

  32. Hahaha, I didn’t even realize that ozone hole/ozone depletion denial was a thing, but here we are. Thank you for demonstrating the spectacular and wondrous boundaries of irrational human thought.

    Needless to say this is all utter hogwash and the Montreal Treaty (sure, props to Reagan and his administration) is a great exactly of wildly successful environmental policy.

  33. “2.8% ultimately is a significant percentage of global emissions; he seems to use that number in a way that suggests that’s not a big percentage, but to me it sure seems like it is”

    in no way shape or form is 2.8% a significant % of global emissions.

    There are industries that generate far more emissions than the airlines do yet don’t get the opprobrium air transport does.

    Could the industry to more enviromentally (and not just emissions wise) then yes it could but then again so could every other sector of industry and activity.

  34. Regardless of whether you agree with the facts of what he said, we can all agree that his specific comments and speech are not what I would expect from a CEO of a large airline. It shows his lack of knowledge about the business. This guy is a loose cannon and has consistently embarrassed and disrespected the brand. I hope the board takes note and adjusts accordingly.

  35. Those Fox News audience members who don’t believe in climate scientists because their results don’t support your political views, try that with your anti-cancer drugs that are also a result of numerous scientist’s discovery efforts. Stop taking your pills and see what happens.

  36. One transatlantic flight can add as much to your carbon footprint as a typical year’s worth of driving. Now ask yourself how many flights have you made this year. Scientific papers are not fake news and other studies put the number well above 2.8%.

  37. He is right. Only a very small handful of people voice those opinions. Unfortunately the mainstream media has editorial interests to push a certain narrative and disproportionately covers that POV yet fail to mention the overwhelming majority counterpoint to it. It is magnified by social media where people post about it. Normal people aren’t going to mention it in the first place so there is a false impression many support those opinions. Stupidly, company management tends to give in despite being heavily opposed by the majority of people. It’s the same thing when companies and institutions kowtow to the idea of forced racial diversity and forced LGBT everything to the point that it is a crime in their eyes to do anything white, straight or Christian. Then kids are fed this bias in schools from an early age 7 hours a day 5 days a week for 12 years and another 4-7.

  38. The key word there is ‘shame’.

    It’s a symptom of a society that’s abandoned traditional religions and started evolving its own proxies for good and evil, saintly and corrupt. It’s based more in jealousy, virtue signalling, attention-seeking and moral grandstanding than it is on any genuine concern for, and understanding of, the planet.

    While reducing your carbon footprint is helpful, if every business class passenger quite flying today, the overall impact on CO2 emissions would be barely measurable, unlike the cost to economic systems around the world, which certainly would be measurable.

    That’s before we get to the fact that CO2 emissions are actually only a small part of the damage we’re doing to the earth – with chemical pollution, meat consumption and deforestation being far more critical.

    I would suggest people stop eating mammals, stop buying goods from producers who violate the environment and invest more in low carbon technologies, rather than just trying to shame others into following your own quasi-religious guilt structures.

  39. I chose not to breed to offset the environmental damage that I do with travel.
    One human consuming over a lifetime in the First-World does incalculable damage.
    Don’t get me started on the overpopulation in Africa and Asia and what that’s doing to the planet…

  40. @James S: “Lucky, why do so many of your vocal readers apparently rely exclusively on Fox News to shape their views?”

    So many? I suspect it’s just one or two, posting under different names.

  41. ”The reality is that the airline industry is becoming better environmentally, not necessarily because they actually care, but because fuel efficient planes save them money. “

    The same situation applies to all industries. They claim to be going green because they care but it’s really because it saves them money.

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