How does Gen Z fly? The age group, which includes young people born between 1998 and 2007, ie those who are today between 15 and 25 years old, constitutes 30% of the world population and 12% of the French population. This makes them a significant part of potential air passengers. But on the other hand, there is the “flygskam”, this shame of taking the plane to favor less carbon-intensive modes of transport. The phenomenon, inspired by the line of action of the young activist Greta Thunberg, left Sweden at the end of 2017 before going far beyond its borders and seeming to particularly affect young people.
The Pegase chair, which brings together around twenty researchers working on the economics of air transport, tried to probe this relationship of Generation Y in a study published this week. To do this, she administered a questionnaire to a sample of 800 young people aged 15 to 24, which she compared to a second, of 1,010 respondents aged 25 or over. »
Only beaten by Millennials?
Result: this generation Z does not seem to take the plane less than its elders. It is rather the opposite. “Before the Covid-19 crisis, in a typical year like 2019, Generation Z made an average of 1.46 flights per year, says Paul Chiambaretto, director of this chair attached to the Montpellier Business School. Only Millennials (25-35 year olds) made more with 1.65 flights, which can be explained by the fact that this age group is more financially established and has more opportunities to make professional flights. On the other hand, Generation X (35-65 years old) achieved 1.34 and that of baby boomers (65-75 years old), 1.015. And the pandemic has not a priori reshuffled the cards. The flight intentions expressed for the year 2022 are globally equivalent to the flights carried out in 2019, notes the study.
This is the whole paradox pointed out by the Pégase chair. “This generation is more committed than the others to environmental issues, many studies point this out, but this does not always translate into more eco-responsible consumption,” notes Paul Chiambaretto. Thus the relationship to the plane of 15-24 year olds differs relatively little from their elders. When they buy a plane ticket, “the main selection criteria for Generation Z are primarily price, safety and the number of stopovers,” continues the management professor. The airline’s environmental performance only comes in 7th position (out of 10). Here again, the ranking for 18-24 year olds is similar to that for 25 and over.
The Pégase chair also notes several signs that suggest that this generation Z could have more marked use of the plane in the future. “These 18-24 year olds seek more to consume moments, experiences than material products, illustrates Paul Chambiaretto. Rather than buying a car, an apartment, clothes, they will favor going out and traveling. »
Not a single generation Z?
Alexis Chailloux, responsible for “citizen engagement” at Grennepeace France, strongly qualifies these conclusions. “A first criticism is that the Pégase chair presents generation Z as a single coherent block, when in reality there are generations Z as there are youths”, he begins. Last February, the NGO also published a study, commissioned from ObSoCo, on the travel practices of young French people (18-30 years old). This barometer then observed that among the respondents, a majority (53%) never took the plane, or very rarely for their leisure. Conversely, a third took it several times a year, “among whom mainly young urban workers, highly qualified (> bac + 4), living in the Paris conurbation”, explains Alexis Chailloux. The plane has become much less democratized than we imagine, including among young people. We would therefore see a multiplication of trips, rather than a multiplication of travellers.
However, we partly find in this study by Obsoco the same paradox raised by the Pégase chair. Between, on the one hand, a strong disposition of young people – including those who fly the most today to take the plane less for environmental concerns and on the other, intentions that increase when choosing the mode of transport for his vacation. “Here again, the barometer found that the cost of the trip tops the criteria taken into account (69%), ahead of the existence or not of a direct route (40%) and comfort (39%).
More transparency, a key issue?
How then to push this generation Z to a greener use of the plane? For the Pégase chair as for Greenpeace, part of the answer lies in providing better information to travellers. But Paul Chiambaretto and Alexis Chailloux do not put the same issues behind. The director of the Pégase chair relies on another lesson drawn from his study according to which 79% of 15-24 year olds are inclined to pay more for their ticket to travel on board a company that is more respectful of the environment. “Compared to 69% among those aged 25 and over,” he explains. And of these 79%, 27% are ready to pay more than 21 euros. Again, a higher proportion than their elders. »
Paul Chiambaretto sees this as an encouragement for airlines to reduce the carbon footprint of their flights and, for those who have already made efforts, to highlight them much more prominently in their communication strategy. “This is not at all the case today, he regrets. On flight comparators, there is no element that allows Internet users to compare flights on their carbon footprint. »
At Greenpeace, we do not believe much in the advent of the green plane, this great promise of the air sector that we will one day be able to fly without emitting greenhouse gas emissions or, at least, drastically less than ‘today. For the NGO, the priority is therefore to reduce our use of the plane. “Which also involves a need for more transparency,” but to inform passengers of the real carbon cost that a single plane trip can have, insists Alexis Chailloux. We realized, in the Obsoco study, that young people greatly underestimate it, especially on long-haul flights. »
Playing on the price signal, for Greenpeace
This greater transparency would make it possible to rebalance the balance between the plane and its less carbon-intensive alternatives such as the train. But that’s only part of the answer for Alexis Chailloux. “For many destinations, the fares offered by certain airlines are so low that they do not stand up to comparison with other mobility solutions,” he continues. We have to work on this lack of competitiveness. As such, Greenpeace is making the same request as the Citizen’s Convention for the Climate in 2019: “that of reinforcing taxes on the plane, the revenue from which would precisely make it possible to finance subsidies on the train. By allowing, for example, to offer a train ticket to each 20-year-old young person to travel for free in Europe? The proposal had been submitted to young people surveyed by ObSoCo in February… It had been approved by 78%.