Sustainable Travel: Trends in Air Travel

Remember that time Greta Thunburg made a carbon-neutral voyage across the Atlantic to go to a conference in America and raise awareness around climate change? It sparked a conversation with some of my friends about air travel’s impact on the environment. For years we’ve been talking about cars and their emissions but only recently, it feels, have planes been brought into the mix. Cars are still the majority contributor but airplane emissions’ contribution is not minimal at 9% (according to a 2017 EPA study).

Source: EPA Study, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990–2017

But as my friends pointed out, we don’t all have time or resources to take the literal long way ’round. So if you have to fly, what can we do? Well, it turns out that airlines (probably in a bid for self-preservation) are considering this as well. Popular flight search sites like Skyscanner have added eco-notices to their flight results for flights that are more emissions-friendly (friendly being a subjective word) so you can see which flights would have less of an impact. How do they do this? Baggage limitations, newer more efficient planes and carbon offset donations are a few things that come to mind.

Skyscanner has added a banner highlighting flights with lower emissions than average

With the ‘scandal’ of Harry and Meghan using private jets all summer for their personal travel, reporters were quick to judge the eco-conscious couple for apparent hypocrisy. However, according to the same news outlets, they donated to companies that offset the carbon footprint (also called Carbon Footprint…). Well let’s all be like Harry and Meghan, shall we (you know you want to)?

In recent bookings with both RyanAir and Norwegian, during the checkout process, I was prompted to make a donation to offset my carbon footprint. Even RyanAir!?!? The shock. It was just £1-2 so I opted in. I’m sure if it were larger, people would be offset by the offset but it’s a good step. It would be great to see companies donate this automatically within the price (honestly, the majority of the flight prices are ‘taxes and fees’, just sneak an eco-fee in there, we don’t read fine print anyways).

So there are steps being taken and it’s not the end-all-be-all solution but it’s nice to see companies addressing customers’ concerns about the environment. In researching the whole private jet debacle, I was also reminded of Travelyst, a partnership of tourism-related companies backed by Prince Harry (around the same time of the private jet debacle) to find ways to reduce the footprint of travelling although it doesn’t say how just yet.

And in the words of every travel blog ever, if you have to fly, think of other ways to reduce your footprint like packing light, trains and buses for shorter distances, and bringing as many reusable products you can (more on that later).

I wonder what would have happened if instead of jacking up the prices of luggage on RyanAir flights, if instead they had said: “Hey, we’re trying to reduce our carbon footprint by making our flights lighter with less luggage. We are a short-haul, budget airline so pose the question to you, do you need a full suitcase of just-in-case items? Or can you get away with a backpack? If not, that’s totally fine! But we’re going to ask you to pay for the weight as it does impact the environment”, what would the response have been? On the one hand, consumers are still paying. But on the other hand, it’s raising awareness and assuming they did actually use that money for eco-purposes, could help the environment.

Same thing for Amazon: could you please stop sending tiny items in giant boxes with a bunch of plastic bubble wrap?? You have collection lockers for a reason, just put the item in there sans packaging and plant a tree instead.

4 thoughts on “Sustainable Travel: Trends in Air Travel

  1. Interesting timing on this post, Emily! My client XCHG just made an announcement yesterday that will help airlines meet their emission reduction goals. Did you know that the airline industry as a whole has committed that by 2030, their emissions are capped at where they were in 2020? See more about that at https://www.carbonbrief.org/corsia-un-plan-to-offset-growth-in-aviation-emissions-after-2020, and my client’s news at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-airlines/global-airline-group-to-launch-carbon-exchange-platform-to-address-climate-change-idUSKBN1ZT1VY. And yes I agree it’s super cool that airlines can allow you to pay to offset your own butt in the seat. Everything helps, I guess!

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