Eco-Conscious, Travel

Flight-shaming and making air travel more eco-conscious

I heard an interesting segment on NPR the other day about a Swedish word for flight shaming: “flygskam”. The story discussed the idea of avoiding flying (or shaming others for flying) – especially private charter flights or short-haul flights – because of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from air travel.

Image by bottlein from Pixabay

The truth is that for many of us in the United States who live outside of major metropolitan areas with reliable and functional public transportation systems, where we live and how we travel is designed around car or air travel. We’d theoretically like to be more eco-conscious in our travel, but are we willing to sell our car, take the bus to work, or never travel again if it involves a short-haul flight? I know I’m not going to take measures of that nature, but I am open to learning more about how to be more conscious in my travel – both by car and by plane.

Wanderu provides some fascinating charts that compare fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions per passenger on bus, train, car and airplane. The fuel inefficiency of traveling by air is staggering – air travel is only 25% as fuel efficient as traveling by train.

Now, with the limited vacation time many American’s have and our desire to still travel, flying is still going to win out over train travel or road trips at times. Are there ways to make your decision to fly more environmentally-friendly? You bet. Here are some quick tips on how small changes can make your air travel more eco-conscious:

  • Take longer non-stop flights versus shorter connecting flights: This can be challenging when your local airports have very few non-stop destinations, but takeoffs and ascent to cruising altitude use significant amounts of fuel. This is particularly wasteful when you take short trips – such as the less than one hour connecting flight I have between our regional airport and our main Midwest hub of Chicago. Even driving up to 500 miles to a more major metro area airport is more eco-conscious than flying from a small airport to connect through a larger one. This makes even more sense if you travel with others.
  • Pack light (even when your bags fly free): While it’s tempting to max out the weight of your two free bags (hello, Southwest!) when flying, bring what you need and the lighter flight weight means fewer emissions for the trip. Granted, this is something that many more people than simply one would need to do to make a difference. Delta Airlines noted in Travel & Leisure that if every customer were to pack one less pair of shoes (a roughly 2 pound difference), the impact in reduced fuel consumption over a years time would equal removing 10,500 cars from the road for a year.
  • Emphasize aircraft capacity and age in your selection: Granted, these can change before your trip arrives, but generally speaking – a larger aircraft means that the carbon emissions are spread across more people, and newer aircraft are more fuel efficient. You can actually compare fuel efficiency by aircraft on this Wiki page. If your travel plans are flexible that you could opt for a different flight on a more fuel efficient aircraft, great!
  • BYO Cup/Mug/Ziplocs: If you’re like me, I always opt for airport pastries and for a cup of coffee in-flight. I’m always FREEZING on planes, so a cup of coffee has become a welcomed tradition whenever I’m on a flight. However, I cringe knowing that most airlines still use styrofoam cups. Bring your own cup or travel mug and avoid contributing to the 5.2 million tons of waste generated each year from airline cabins. Remember to empty your cup or mug of all liquids before going through TSA inspection! You can also avoid the plastic packaging and bakery packaging from airport vendors if you bring your own reusable plastic bags. We use the snack and sandwich sized bags from Jalousie (available on Amazon) and love them.
  • Offset Your Carbon: I’m a bit wary of feel good programs that remove our guilt from bad behaviors by assessing a small fee (it reminds me of the Freakonomics daycare fining scenario). That being said, airlines have begun to make it easier for passengers to estimate the carbon costs of their air travel and provide easy ways for customers to offset those negative impacts by donating directly to environmentally-friendly causes. Learn more about this here.

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