For those of us who love to travel but are conscious of our carbon footprint, Skyscanner’s Sustainability Expert, Martin Nolan, shares some small switches you can make to fly greener.
1. Fly Direct (most of the time)
Take-off and landing use more fuel than cruising at altitude, so taking a non-stop flight can often be more efficient. However, this also depends on the length of the flight. For long-haul flights, the fuel can make the plane heavier, so past a certain distance it becomes more fuel efficient to make a halfway stop to refuel (this is at 5,600 km for a Boeing 777).
2. Fly Economy
Great news for budget-travellers ― flying with low-cost or even ultra-low cost airlines often lowers emissions. This is partly due to them reducing weight on board and making the best use of aircraft space per traveller.
Premium-class seats take up more space on the plane and are much heavier, which reduces the number of people who can fit onto each flight and increases the aircraft’s fuel consumption. The latest economy seats can weigh as little as 4 kg, but a typical business class seat weighs around 82 kg (the average weight of an extra person).
You can also check how individual airlines are ranking on the Dow Jones Sustainability index to see what individual airlines are doing to become more environmentally friendly, such as investing in sustainable aviation fuel. You can read Skyscanner’s guide to greener aviation fuel here.
3. Compare flight emissions
Comparing the emissions output by different airlines for a similar flight is a quick way to lighten your carbon footprint. Skyscanner’s ‘Greener Choice’ flight label lets travellers to filter and search for flights on Skyscanner that emit less C02 compared to the average for their chosen route.
For example, searches for London Heathrow to John F Kennedy, New York will display options such as this which is 48% less CO2 than the average emissions for that route (for the same price)
For a long time, travellers have been enticed to upgrade basic flights for all-inclusive packages allowing us to carry extra luggage, relish in-flight snacks, enjoy extra legroom, and make use of pillows, blankets, headphones, etc. Whilst flying in comfort is certainly appealing (!) all these add-ons come with an extra cost to the environment.
Unbundling of fares means only paying for what you need resulting in less waste, single use plastics and less weight on the plane and so greater fuel efficiency. The pandemic has accelerated a lot of change in the in-flight process for example British Airways now offers a pre-order inflight meal service which means they only have to pack what they need resulting in less weight on board and less waste.
5. Pack light
Bad news for anyone trying to pack the kitchen sink! Whilst hand luggage has become more of the norm when flying with low-cost airlines, did you know only bringing the things you really need won’t just save you money it will help reduce the emissions of your flight?
You might not think making simple changes like leaving that extra pair of shoes at home would make a difference, but put simply bigger airplanes and heavier flying weights means more emissions for take-off and landing. Go electronic, buy toiletries when you get there, take essential items of clothing and do your laundry in destination. A rough guide is that a 1% reduction in aircraft weight will reduce fuel consumption by 0.75%.
6. Throw Shade
Whilst you’re in ‘flight’ mode, there are actions you can take to help lower emissions. Good news if you’re fond of a flight time nap or you’re squinting from the sun on your in-flight entertainment screen – did you know just by lowering the window shades it can make the aircraft up to 10 degrees cooler which reduces the energy required to maintain the temperature, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
This means less energy is required to power the air conditioning system, and less greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
7. To Offset or Not to Offset
Offsetting is a lot like donating to your favourite charities, but you can do it at the same moment that you book your flight. Carbon offsets are used for a variety of projects like planting trees, installing solar energy, or offering better renewable energy resources to impoverished nations. Programs vary widely, and it’s important to do your research first before committing, so you know exactly where your money is going.
How much you pay is often determined by estimating your personal carbon footprint. The total takes into account how often and how far you fly, if you choose economy seats, if you bought a direct flight, how often you check luggage, and so on.
If you don’t love the options or rates offered by the airline or provider you’re flying with, you can also consider setting aside your own offset fund and donating it independently to a conservation charity of your choice.
“While the idea of carbon-offsetting our much-longed-for post pandemic future travels is a worthy one, it is only one piece of the puzzle, and for many of us who love to travel, it can be hard to work out our individual footprint and options for greener travel. We need to arm consumers with greater transparency and information about emissions and the impact associated with air travel so they can make informed decisions about their travel choices. Now is the time to change travel for the better, with the aim of making it net positive, so the planet and places we visit are protected and enhanced.”
Martin Nolan, Skyscanner’s Sustainability Expert
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