Responsible travelers often wonder how to reconcile the convenience of air travel with the fact that it is one of the most environmentally damaging modes of transportation. Is avoiding air travel altogether the only solution? Let’s explore ways to strike a balance and make our global travel as eco-friendly as possible.
“As someone who travels frequently, I often find myself faced with the dilemma of how to get to my destination while minimizing my impact on the environment. While ground transportation is an option, it can be expensive or time-consuming, especially if I’m traveling to multiple countries. Flying is faster, but it’s not eco-friendly, and my activist friends often call me out for it. I even received a message once saying, “If you’re going to fly for my birthday, I’m not waiting for you.” I’ve met others in Europe who have had to give up their dreams of traveling to places like South America or Australia because of the emissions caused by flying. I’ve researched the green programs of airlines and the criticism they receive, and discussed this topic with fellow travelers, but I haven’t found a simple and definitive solution yet.”
Determining the balance between desire and feasibility, distinguishing between right and wrong, and deciding whether or not to fly can be challenging. While we don’t have a conclusive answer, there are some practical suggestions. If avoiding air travel completely isn’t possible, consider ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
1 / Fly direct
Opting for non-stop flights instead of those with layovers can significantly reduce carbon emissions. Takeoffs and landings contribute to the majority of emissions, so by choosing direct flights, travelers can minimize their impact on the environment.
2 / If not possible, mix planes with ground transportation
The latest trend in travel is hybrid travel. In fact, it’s not too challenging to reach an airport in another city by taking a bus, train, or hitchhiking, especially if it’s in the same country and the travel time is not significantly different.
3 / Do not book a ticket right away, read about the airline first
Which aircraft and fuel are being used by airlines? According to experts, newer planes are generally more eco-friendly. Airlines that frequently update their fleet with modern aircraft such as the 787 or A350 can offer more efficient ways to reduce CO2 emissions. Similarly, Airbus is developing hydrogen fuel-powered planes, while other manufacturers are also exploring alternative fuels.
4 / Fly economy class
The higher the number of passengers per unit area, the lower the fuel consumption per individual. While this is not a surefire way to reduce emissions (since airlines may not sell all tickets), it does provide a greater chance. Studies show that business class passengers produce 2-3 times more CO2 emissions compared to economy passengers. Wizz Air has even attempted to lobby European authorities to ban business class at a legislative level, but no radical measures have been implemented yet, such as banning private jets.
5 / Fly less (or slower) for work
Travel industry sources report that in recent years, around 20% of trips are made for business purposes. Prior to the pandemic, this figure was nearly double. However, if there are viable alternatives such as virtual meetings on platforms like Google Meets, why not utilize them? If an in-person meeting is still essential, it’s worth considering traveling by ground transportation for at least one leg of the journey.
6 / Compensate
However, it is important to avoid airlines that engage in greenwashing and instead choose organizations that are genuinely committed to making a positive impact on the world. Perhaps you are already aware of the controversies involving Ryanair and Lufthansa. These airlines have faced criticism for their “unethical marketing” tactics. For example, the so-called “green” fees that are suggested to be paid in addition to the ticket price often do little to offset the emissions caused by your flight. Only 20% of the amount collected is directed towards sustainable fuel, while the remaining 80% goes to projects that are often obscure and receive little public attention.
7 / Use advanced travel services
Are you aware that Skyscanner offers a Greener Choices option for flight tickets? Flights that have a green leaf icon are considered more environmentally friendly because they have CO2 emissions that are below the average for their route. This is a helpful tool to use if you want to make sustainable choices when booking flights. Similarly, on Booking.com, you can also search for more sustainable accommodation options.