KLM made waves last month by encouraging passengers to fly less. But as it turns out, the carrier actually wants you to fly more…just be conscious about it.
In a video message, KLM asked:
Do you always have to meet face-to-face? Could you take the train instead?
The implication is clear: avoid flying for non-essential meetings or meetings that can be reached by train.
But Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith offered quite a different message in a recent telephone interview with Brian Sumers of Skift.
First, Smith noted that Air France and KLM are investing in cleaner, more fuel efficient airplanes:
When you look at the technological improvements over the last few decades and the environmental impact that current generation airplanes have, it’s so much better than in the past for CO2 emissions, noise. We just haven’t done a great job of educating stakeholders. I think that’s step one. We just placed this huge order for the A220. What an improvement that is from an emissions perspective and noise perspective. We’re investing in these types of improvements. Taxing us even more and putting more pressure on our ability to make money when we’ve already got very thin margins makes it more difficult to upgrade the fleet.
Smith accurately points out the regulator’s dilemma. When taxes are too high, business investments are held back. In the case of airlines, these investments may directly contribute to carrier’s environmental impact.
Moving on to the KLM “Fly Responsibly” campaign, Smith adds:
At KLM, “Fly Responsibly” is the campaign. It’s not about flying less. The main message is that, as an airline, we have a huge responsibility — more so than perhaps other companies because we are a high-visibility industry, and we take it seriously. We’re responsible about it. We don’t have the perfect answers. We’d like to be as a group ahead of other carriers or groups, and that means taking some risks and trying different things. We don’t have the magic answers to say how we are going to get a step ahead. We’re just trying to catch up to ensure that our brands maintain their value and are looked at from a fair perspective.
What Smith seems to be saying is that “we are polluters, but at least we recognize it.” Ultimately, that does not solve the problem, Still, I’d call this a more honest approach. An airline encouraging people not to fly is an airline I do not take seriously. Smith’s message is much more credible.
I dismissed the KLM campaign as virtue signaling and stand by that characterization. Smith’s characterization and emphasis on investment in new technologies is a helpful counter-narrative in offering proof of progress rather than hollow platitudes.
image: Air France