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Air Travel- Leisure comes with a substantial carbon footprint. Here is what You Need to Know

Air travel has been on the wishlist of several daydreamers. From the window pane, the exhilarating view of the sky and the earth below is divine. However, air travel has a flip side too. Aeroplanes are powered by jet fuels that largely emit carbon dioxide. Thus, significantly leaving a carbon footprint behind. When discussing air travel's carbon footprint we need to highlight the following pointers

  • Every aircraft burns fuel differently depending on its flight capacity, weight, size and efficiency
  • Besides CO2, air travel is responsible for polluting the climate with other hazardous gases like oxides of nitrogen, water vapours, etc. In the short term, these GHGs have more detrimental effects and contribute significantly to global warming.
  • At high altitudes, greenhouse gases have a more pronounced effect. Water droplets released during jet fuel burning can produce an effect like a greenhouse through the formation of cirrus clouds. The clouds can potentially affect our planet’s climate system as they tend to trap infrared radiation
  • Social media influencers have gravely instigated the travel desire in youth. Travel vlogging and TikTok influencers have boosted the air travel demand.
  • Aeroplane manufacturing companies are struggling with optimizing the fuel efficiency of jets. They do so by employing state-of-the-art technology in systems and designs, yet the demand is superseding than supply.

Comparing air travel with other modes

  • Flying against gravity demands more energy to keep the aircraft in the air. Consequently, the carbon emission of jets is way more than other modes of transportation. However, in terms of fuel efficiency air travel covers more miles than land or ship travel
  • Conventional cars operating on gasoline have been notorious for polluting the air and contributing to climate change. However, their carbon footprint is largely determined by their size, model and fuel efficiency. The good thing is that we have a modern replacement for traditional cars as hybrid and electric cars. Carpooling and ride-sharing attributes cost benefits to land travel. But car travelling has its limitations.
  • Trains have been a popular travelling medium for longer distances. Both forms of Trains whether electric or diesel are viable travelling options for aircraft as they emit considerably less amount of carbon dioxide.
  • Buses are a sustainable option for short to medium distances since they carry several travellers. They have a lower carbon footprint than aircraft. Three main energy sources for powering a bus are diesel, CNG or electricity. Regardless of the type of bus you are travelling, each emits a fairly low carbon footprint.
Transportation Mode CO2 Emissions (grams per passenger-km)
Airplane (short-haul) 285-430
Airplane (long-haul) 210-320
Train (electric) 14
Bus (intercity) 27
Car (average) 160-180
Car (carpooling) Varies widely depending on occupancy
Bicycle Negligible
Walking Negligible

(Source: European Environment Agency, Eurostat, U.S. Department of Energy)

The alternative modes of transportation emit considerably lesser amounts of carbon dioxide than air travel. However, let's be practical. We can't use trains or buses to cross oceans to travel between different countries. Aircraft remains the only workable solution. What we can do is to opt for eco-friendly flying. Read below to find more tips on eco-friendly flights

  1. Booking non-connecting/ direct flights
  2. Flying in economy class saves money and nature
  3. Avoid over-packing. The more luggage you carry the more fuel your aircraft will burn to take off
  4. Compensate your love for air travel by contributing to carbon reduction initiatives.
  5. Pick the airline that promotes environmental sustainability and abides by its ideology in its flying practices
  6. Old aircraft pollute our environment more than newer ones. Where possible pick airlines with latest aeroplanes.
  7. For commutation between airport and destination use ridesharing or public transit
  8. Capping unnecessary travelling will also have a positive impact on our environment
  9. Carrying own food containers, refilling water bottles and avoiding disposable crockery although looks trivial impacts carbon footprint.
  10. Raising awareness on lessening the carbon footprint is the minimum good you can do for your environment.

Data validating our eco-friendly air travel tips

As suggested by ICCT (International Council on Clean Transport) non-stop flights are reported to produce 50% less carbon emissions as compared to connecting flights because of fewer landings and take-offs.

ICCT research suggests that fuel-efficient airlines have 35% less carbon emission per passenger kilometre than inefficient ones.

According to the findings of The European Environment Agency, for each kg of luggage a passenger drops at home, the aircraft emits 0.23 kg less of carbon dioxide in that particular flight.

If you are an economy class traveller give a pat to yourself as an economy class traveler leaves ⅓ less of the carbon footprint as a first class traveller. Switching to trains for a journey of up to 500 miles, you are potentially reducing 55%-75% of carbon emissions.

This piece of writing provides deep insight into the carbon footprints our commutation choices are leaving on the environment. Additionally, you can use a carbon footprint flight calculator to find out more on this topic.

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