AIR TRAVEL: 6 Ways to Reduce Your CARBON FOOTPRINT When Flying
Updated: Feb 27
AIR TRAVEL is one of the most challenging issues to come to terms with if you are concerned about your impact on the health of our planet. Let's face it, sustainable air travel just doesn't exist, and ideally it is best to fly less. As much as we like to encourage families to travel, the first step towards positive change is to acknowledge the fact that flying in airplanes has a proportionally larger carbon footprint when compared to other modes of travel. Estimates have aviation at 2-2.5% of global carbon emissions, with that number set to increase with every year.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Before we go any further, we admit that we are far from perfect. We don't always make the greenest choices and we are learning and evolving as we go. The biggest challenge for us is balancing our budget, as well as taking comfort, convenience and safety into account when traveling with kids, all while being mindful of our carbon footprint. In researching this post, we have learned a great deal that will affect the decisions we make in our future travel plans.
There is no such thing as sustainable air travel...at least not yet. However, if you do feel compelled to get to far away places in a safe and timely fashion (as we do), here are a few ways we can make flying a little more earth-friendly.
1) FLY ECONOMY
If money was no object, most people would choose first-class comfort and luxury all the way. Hefty cost aside, a first-class seat will result in 3X more emissions than an economy seat as those passengers occupy more space on each plane. Business class is 4X more. So if you are like most people who fly coach, then you are already doing your small part. Easy peasy!
2) FLY DIRECT
Planes burn the most fuel when they take off compared to when they are cruising. So direct flights will result in less CO2 and other emissions than those with multiple stops. This is not always the most economical option, as there are often more cheap deals out there with multi-stop flights. It can be more convenient to fly direct, however, especially if you have kids.
3) CHOOSE FLIGHTS with LOWER EMISSIONS
The same flight can have a different carbon footprint depending on the aircraft. According to the International Council on Clean Air, there are two main factors that determine airline fuel efficiency: aircraft fuel burn and seat configuration. Norwegian Air, which ranks as one of the most fuel efficient transatlantic airlines, has a newer fleet with half the number of premium seats as British Airways, which ranks the lowest. Airlines are always trying to cut costs, and fuel makes up a huge portion of their overhead. It makes sense that newer planes, like most new cars, are more fuel efficient and airlines are buying them when they can.
Realistically speaking, however, it isn't always easy to find out how one airline fares better than another, and it isn't always possible to have a choice. We did recently book a flight out of Laos through Trip.com and the search engine highlighted the flights that had a lower carbon footprint. Hopefully we will see more of this in flight search engines to facilitate eco-conscious decisions.
4) STAY LONGER
This is not always an option for those who only get 2 weeks of vacation a year, and we acknowledge that we are very privileged to have the opportunity to travel as long as we are. Long-term, slow travel can dramatically reduce the emissions you produce, when compared to flying from your home country to a far away place and going back each time. Even when long term travel is not feasible, consolidating your vacation time to one big trip a year, instead of 2 small ones could cut your carbon footprint in half. Having more time allows you to explore different options for getting from one place to the next while in another country or between countries as well. Travelling by train, bus or boat can take a long time but enjoying the views and saving on accommodation on an overnighter will also help the budget.
5) TRAVEL LIGHT
We initially decided to travel with carry-on luggage only, to simplify our lives, reduce costs, wait times, and make it easier to get to and from places. Travelling light can also help reduce your carbon footprint, as the amount of weight a plane carries increases its' fuel consumption. On average, airlines allow 1 to 2 bags per person, 15-32 kg per checked baggage. This can add up to quite a bit of weight. Even if carry-on only travel isn't feasible, packing less and buying less, in general, will reduce your overall baggage weight.
6) CONSIDER CARBON OFFSET PROGRAMS
If you want to pay a little more to ease your guilt about flying, there is an option for that. First, you can calculate your carbon footprint of a flight. Next, buy credits that go towards funding projects that help absorb the the CO2, like planting trees or investing in green technologies that prevent CO2 from being released in the first place. Easyjet claims to the be the first carbon neutral airline and includes these programs in the price. Other airlines offer this as an option, or you can purchase offsets directly. There is some controversy over whether these programs utilise funds effectively and some environmental groups say we really should just be flying less.
There are some reputable programs such as Cooleffect, Gold Standard, and Green-e. FlyGrn.com is different in that it is a flight search engine that will help you find the cheapest airfare and with their own revenue, partially or completely offset your flight's CO2 emissions for FREE. We will definitely be checking this site for upcoming flights.
SOMETIMES IT'S THE SMALL THINGS...
AVOID AIRPLANE HEADPHONES
Airlines usually supply cheap, disposable, poor quality headphones that are re-packaged or thrown away after each use. What makes it worse is they often have 2-prong headphone jacks that make it impossible to plug in normal headphones without an ADAPTER. You can purchase these from most travel stores. This won't cause a dramatic reduction in your carbon footprint, but bringing an adapter on flights can allow you to use your own headphones, and not add more plastic and wires to the landfill. Plus, the sound quality will be much better.
The airline industry is continually evolving with electric planes and new lower emission technologies being developed as we speak. However, we are a long way from this being a reality for the average airline passenger. Until that happens, any effort to minimize your impact on our planet Earth is worthwhile.