As the planet’s climate emergency permeates into the consciousness of global travelers, many of us are grappling with how to make more environmentally-friendly choices. For some, our careers necessitate our travel schedules. For others, travel remains one of the luxuries we afford ourselves amongst our efforts to stick to a budget or lead a minimalist lifestyle. Regardless of the reason to travel, we can each do our part to minimize our carbon footprint. Here are seven ways to decrease your environmental impact as a climate-conscious traveler.
Fly the Lowest Emissions Fare
For climate-conscious travelers seeking ways to lower their air travel carbon footprint, a combination of factors—namely price, duration, and number of stops—should be considered.
Take price, for starters. If you book a fare with a low price-point, such as a basic economy fare, you’re intentionally purchasing a bare-bones ticket; one that almost always excludes a checked bag and sometimes even an in-flight snack. While that may sound barbaric to some travelers, basic economy fares fit just right for budget-savvy—and eco-conscious—travelers. Less weight per passenger equates to less fuel consumption—and fewer carbon emissions. (More on how each of these absent amenities help lower emissions, below.)
Then there’s flight duration. Here’s where climate-conscious travelers will want to do their due diligence: not all short-haul flights are created carbon-equal. Some short-haul flights have less of a carbon footprint, yes—but they are also less fuel-efficient. During take-off, planes use upwards of 25 percent of the fuel needed for the flight. Once at cruising altitude, however, planes become much more fuel-efficient. That means longer, direct flights have a smaller carbon footprint than a journey comprised of a bunch of shorter ones.
That brings us to number of stops. Up to a certain distance, long-haul flights are more fuel-efficient when they fly non-stop. Said flights carry additional fuel, which leads to higher fuel consumption, but avert the energy losses caused by the additional landing and take-off a fuel stop requires. However, at some point, making a stop can be the more fuel-efficient move. Take the Boeing 777-300: 3,000 nautical miles is its fuel-efficiency sweet-spot. For a non-stop flight of 3,000 miles or less, stopping would prove fuel-inefficient. However, when there’s a need to cover a total distance greater than 3,000 miles, making a stop is the more fuel-efficient decision.
When you book flights, take into account the price, duration, and number of stops a flight might take over the course of your journey. If you’re flying a short-haul journey, the least amount of stops is better for the environment. Flying long-haul? Consider the duration and number of stops relevant to the model of the plane to make the most climate-conscious flight decision.
Book Flights on Energy-Efficient Aircraft
Speaking of climate-conscious flight decisions, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)—an independent nonprofit organization with a mission “to improve the environmental performance and energy efficiency of road, marine, and air transportation, in order to benefit public health and mitigate climate change”—the following aircraft are currently the most fuel-efficient in the world:
- Airbus A350-900
- Boeing 787-9
- Boeing 787-8
- Airbus A330-300
- Boeing 757-300
- Boeing 777-300ER
- Boeing 737 MAX
- Airbus A321
Leverage TripIt’s Carbon Footprint Feature
Travelers can now better understand the environmental impact of all of their flights, thanks to TripIt’s Carbon Footprint feature. The feature helps you see, track, and offset your carbon footprint for individual flights as well as your cumulative air travel record. TripIt calculates your carbon footprint using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol—the same methodology used by American and European government agencies—taking into account many of the factors mentioned above, such as flight distance, ticket class, and environmental elements. The app then provides practical ideas on how to reduce or offset your environmental impact.
Take a Train
Another way for climate-conscious travelers to lower their carbon footprint is to take the train instead of a plane. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, aircraft produce 12 percent of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions. When you take a train, you cut carbon dioxide (CO2) by half compared to a plane ride covering the same distance.
Avoiding extra fees that drain your business travel budget is one reason to to skip checking a bag. However, we have another reason for you to consider: the fewer bags you check, the lighter the aircraft. The lighter the aircraft, the less fuel needed to fly… you get where this is going. Sure, one less checked bag on one flight might not save the planet, but try telling Greta Thunberg one person’s actions won’t reverberate around the world.
Just Say No to On-board Plastics
While airlines take aim at eliminating single-use plastics on-board, travelers can also do their part by reducing the need for them altogether. Those airline blankets wrapped in plastic? You can pass on taking one since you brought a cozy blanket scarf to swaddle yourself in during the flight. And, no need for a single-use plastic cup when you’ve brought your own refillable water bottle. Or refillable wine bottle—no judgement here. Same goes for headphones for the in-flight entertainment system; bring your own or, at the very least, hang on to the pair the flight attendant gives you to reuse on future flights.
Pre-Order Your Meals
Some airlines require it; others are doing so as a service to travelers. Either way, when possible, pre-ordering your in-flight meal helps airlines better determine how much food—and the single-use plastics needed for food and beverage service—is actually required. Less waste. Less weight. Fewer carbon emissions.
Now that’s a climate-conscious plan we can get on board with.