Eco-friendly flights: are they possible?

A big conflict that often arises in my life is my love for travel as well as my passion for protecting the environment. The world’s airlines use around 205 million tonnes of aviation fuel per year. This fuel produces greenhouse gasses such as CO2, ozone, sulphur dioxide and methane. One of the main reasons I became vegan was because it massively reduces my negative impact on the plant. However, does being vegan justify several long-haul flights a year? Probably not. While the best way to find eco-friendly flights may be to not travel at all, I’m determined to find a way to continue my adventures with a reduced environmental impact.

Booking flights through eco-friendly sites

You can use flygreen to compare and book eco-friendly flights by offsetting carbon emissions. The site calculates the emissions of your flight and then offsets a percentage of the emissions for free. Sometimes 100% of the emissions are offset sometimes a proportion is included and then you get the option to pay to offset the rest. Their revenue goes directly into offsetting flight emissions by building solar panel projects in India or planting trees. They even send a certificate showing you offset your flight’s emissions. The price of flights on this website is comparable to Skyscanner. This is a good option because your emission offset is included for free meaning you don’t have to pay more than the ticket price.

How to book more eco-friendly flights in general

If you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your flights, but don’t want to switch from your tried and tested booking site, there is still a way to make your flights more eco-friendly.

Book Direct and semi long-haul flights

Booking direct flights (without layovers) helps to reduce the environmental impact of your flight. This is because planes use the most fuel and emit the most harmful emissions during take-off. If you fly direct, you only take off once meaning flight emissions are lower than with multiple flights.

Because most emissions are produced during take-off, short-haul flights are actually less environmentally friendly than semi long-haul flights. On short-haul flights, as much as 25% of the total fuel is used during take-off. The most fuel-efficient routes are those that cover around 4,300km (2,671 miles). This is approximately a flight from Europe to the East Coast of the US. Most flights within the EU travel less than 500km (310 miles).

Save money and the environment by flying economy

The more people that are travelling on the plane, the less the environmental impact of each individual person. A study estimated that people flying business class produce around 3 times as many emissions as those flying in economy. This study also estimates that those flying in first class have a carbon footprint around 9 times bigger than those flying in coach. This is because the amount of space each individual has in business class / first class is far greater than those in economy. So, book yourself the cheapest tickets and know that you have a smaller carbon footprint.

Offsetting your carbon footprint

Once you’ve booked your flights, you can choose to offset the carbon emissions. Offsetting your carbon emissions means paying towards a company or product that helps reduce CO2, such as planting trees or installing wind farms. Carbon offsetting does not mean that you stop the release of emissions from your flight, it means that you reduce CO2 elsewhere instead. This is done by measuring the amount of CO2 produced by your flight and reducing that amount elsewhere using eco-friendly projects. Some airlines offer this as part of the booking processes such as KLM, JetBlue and United.

If you have already booked a flight or can’t see an option on the airline, there are third party websites that you can plug in your flight details and offset your emissions.

Sustainable Travel International has a carbon footprint calculator and allows you to easily offset emissions. This is the company that works with Delta airlines and also offers other options for helping increase sustainable travel.

Atmosfair has a calculator which takes into account the airlines efficiency and offsets CO2 as well as other greenhouse gasses. They have rankings which help you pick a more efficient airline. You can offset not only flight emissions but other types of travel, such as cruises.

Climate care offers a calculator for offsetting emissions from both flight and car travel.

Fly less

Obviously, the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to fly less. You should have one longer holiday rather than several short stays. This reduces the number of times that you fly and so reduces the emissions produced. Some people may argue that offsetting emissions is just a way for people to clear their conscience, and really we should just not be flying. As someone in a long distance relationship and a lover of travel, this seems impossible to me. I hope to reduce my environmental impact by offsetting my carbon footprint and trying to book direct flights.

I can still play the vegan card though, right?

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