Generation Z, air travel and environment: a sensitivity that does not translate into behavior

The Chaire Pégase at Montpellier Business School, dedicated to the economics and management of air transport and aerospace, recently published a study on the attitude of Generation Z (15-24 year olds) towards air transport. We will only go over the generic aspects related to their knowledge of the subject and their digital behaviors to focus on their relationship to the environment.

A generation Z with little interest in the air travel industry

In general, this generation is not very interested in the air travel industry. Not as a means of transportation but as an industry in general. They prefer the space industry.

We are not talking about the means of transportation but about an interest that can be related to the professional field or intellectual curiosity. Should we be surprised? Not at all in our opinion.

Despite the fact that it is a constantly evolving field, both economically and technically, aviation may seem like ancient history. It is no longer André Turcat (the Concorde test pilot) but Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk who are making the headlines and this mainly explains that.

It is logical that a young generation is more interested in its own new frontiers and for them the new frontier is space.

Environment and air travel: a misinformed generation

Focusing on the environmental dimension, Generation Z is very uninformed about the impact of air travel.

85% of this generation greatly overestimates the impact of air travel on the environmentcompared to what it really is (2 to 3% of global emissions).

This is a pity and calls for a communication effort from the professionals of the sector (and maybe a little objectivity from the media and politicians?) but is not a surprise because their elders have exactly the same perception as them.

In this regard, we mention the excellent report published by this same Chaire Pégase in 2019, which showed to what extent the impact of the sector on CO2 emissions was overestimated by the French population compared to other industries that are much more polluting and more present in our daily lives.

Environment : yes, but not at the expense of flying

For all that, and going against many preconceived ideas, generation Z does not reject air travel, far from it. 80% of 18-25 year olds have already taken a plane once in their lives with an average of 6.4 flights during their teenage years and claim their desire to visit the world.

What is interesting is that when asked why they do not fly, they mention the lack of need and the lack of means. The environmental reason only comes further down the list (41% vs. 69 and 57) and, surprisingly, it matters less to them than to the general population (47%).

In addition, when asked what their main criteria are when choosing an airline, its environmental performance is ranked 7th (out of ten) and 8th for other generations.

More interestingly, if they are concerned about the environment and after being weaned from travel due to COVID they intend to fly much more than other generations.

A generation that will increase its air travel

Apart from the millenials (the current 25-35 year olds), they are the ones who plan to fly the most in the next 12 months.

A little less than millenials but a lot more than the X’s and “Bommers” who are most often singled out.

A “catch-up” effect after the COVID? Maybe, but it concerns everyone. On the other hand, this tends to show that they still have more destinations to discover than their elders and that their concern for the environment is not, in their eyes, an obstacle to this.

Contradictory? Hypocritical? Not at all. At least not according to them.

Generation Z is not susceptible to “flygskam”

When choosing between two means of transportation, Generation Z takes the environment into account, but not excessively. Thirty-two percent consider the most sustainable way to travel when given the choice or feel that they pollute more by air than by car.

Only 25% try to fly less (compared to 48% who do not try and 26% who are neutral).

At the other end of the spectrum, 76% do not feel “flygskam” or shame about flying (compared to 13% who do) and only 11% have had a negative comment from their friends or family when they flew.

Positions that are much less pronounced than one might think and, in our opinion, that should not be so different from other generations and that mark a mix of sensitivity and lucidity.

The environmental concern to the test of the wallet

So, going back to what we said above, how do they intend to reconcile this apparent contradiction of wanting to travel more while preserving the environment?

Well, by paying more! Exactly 14,% versus 8,5% for the other generations.

Commendable? Certainly.

But we know what usually happens to good intentions when it is time to pull out the bank card, especially in the current context of uncertainty.

If (or when…) an arbitration will have to be made will they give up flying or will they abandon their good intentions ? We have our own ideas about this.

Bottom line

Generation Z is environmentally conscious, but not as environmentally radical as some would have us believe. They intend to continue discovering the world but at a higher price.

A mixture of sensitivity and lucidity.

We wait to see what their trade-offs will be when they can’t afford it.

The Pégase Chair website

Link to the report summary

Link to the infographic of the report

Link to the press release

Image: millennial on vacationby Khosro via shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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