Former prime minister and Air New Zealand board member Sir John Key says airlines would be ''stupid'' if it didn't take seriously the growing flight shame movement.
In the face of growing signs of passengers opting for alternative ways to travel, Key said there was a risk to Air New Zealand if the ''flygskam'' anti-flying push continued to expand around the world. Last week an Extinction Revolution environmental activist glued himself to the top of a British Airways plane in London, causing flight disruptions.
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Key said Air New Zealand, which has a long-established sustainability programme, could still be a target for environmental activism.
''If this movement grows over time, the risk is that you start being seen out of touch. Climate change is becoming an increasingly serious issue and commercially that's a really stupid thing to do so we need to demonstrate that we take this issue seriously.''
Key told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB that younger travellers were increasingly questioning whether flying fitted in with their values.
Air New Zealand was tackling the issue by operating a relatively young, fuel efficient fleet, had sustainability initiatives such as electric vehicles on the ground and was investigating hybrid aircraft partly powered by rechargeable batteries.
It also had a carbon offset scheme for passengers to pay into schemes such as forestry projects to neutralise emissions from their flights.
Key, who has been on the airline's board for two years, said off a ''very small base'' more passengers were doing this.
Figures released by the airline for the last year show just 4.6 per cent of New Zealanders offset their flights.
This compares with 7.3 per cent of North American passengers and nearly 10 per cent of those from Britain.
During the past year 184,000 journeys were offset, up from 130,000 the previous year, although this is just a fraction of the 17 million passengers carried.
Incoming Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran says the airline needs to be a world leader in sustainability.
''We need to be taking some positive steps around this and there are a number of things that fit into sustainability from carbon footprints driven by CO2 emissions to social responsibility,'' said Foran, who will start at the airline early next year after heading retail giant Walmart in the United States.
''I think it's vitally important that we lead - not just in New Zealand but around the world in terms of what we can accomplish.''
A survey earlier this year by investment bank UBS showed that travellers are already choosing not to fly, with 21 per cent of the 6000 people polled in the United States,
Germany, France and Britain saying they had reduced the number of flights they had taken during the past year, because of the environmental impact.
Aviation is responsible for around 2 per cent of total carbon emissions and about 12 per cent of those from transport.
A New Zealand tourism boss says he's hearing concerns about the impact of flying from overseas visitors. While the flygskam movement was a real consideration for this country, thl chief executive Grant Webster said there was also an opportunity.
''I don't think it is a substantial threat to New Zealand - in fact it provides an opportunity.''
Travellers making longer bucket list trips could put their concerns aside but shorter trips - especially where there were transport alternatives - were more at risk..
''We do see that people suspend their beliefs for their once-in-a-lifetime long haul travel. I think you'll see short-haul travel is where the damage will be caused and I think that is fair and right,'' said Webster, a former chairman of Tourism Industry Aotearoa.
There were move to make the tourism sector the first carbon neutral tourist industry in the world, something he supported but needed a much broader scope including social and business sustainable.
His company had trialled electric motor homes but there were still concerns about their range, said Webster.