How to Fly Sustainably: 6 Tips to Cut Your Carbon “Flight” Print

Marley Flueger
October 31, 2022

You could end today on the other side of the world. Or zip across the country to kiss your grandma goodnight. You could even hit the skies just to skip a boring drive – all you need is the right plane ticket. 

Aviation has revolutionized human travel. Today, anywhere - and everywhere - is closer and more accessible than ever before. The problem? It’s tough to fly sustainably. 

The aviation industry produces around 2.5% of global carbon emissions. This may seem like a small share, but it’s rising 1.5 times quicker than predicted. With passenger numbers set to double by 2037, there’s no slowdown in sight.

Just 1% of humans generate more than half of aviation emissions. In contrast, 90% of people will never step foot on a plane. While the benefits of flying are enjoyed by only a few, we’re all vulnerable to climate change. 

Air travel is a powerful lever for climate action. That’s why, today, we’re unpacking how to fly sustainably. 

Is sustainable air travel possible?

Unfortunately, truly sustainable air travel is not yet possible. While fuel economy is improving throughout the aviation industry, flying is still inherently carbon-intensive. Advancements in biofuels and electric planes could cut aviation emissions dramatically, but they’re still a long way from large-scale adoption. 

There are certainly ways to reduce your personal “flight” print – but flying less still has the greatest impact. Instead of taking to the skies next time you travel, consider a greener alternative.

What is the most sustainable way to travel?

After walking and biking, shared transportation is almost always the most sustainable way to travel. Buses, trains, and carpooling all increase the number of people in a vehicle – which reduces your individual footprint.

The good news? Even driving solo can be more environmentally friendly than a short or mid-distance flight. Even longer road trips can be greener than flying if you travel with friends. That’s because every additional passenger cuts your individual impact. (Plus, you can split gas!) 

This emissions calculator can help you determine the carbon impact of different modes of transport. If you decide to drive, explore Joro’s guides to sustainable road-tripping and improving fuel economy before you hit the highway. 

Free Sea Of Clouds Stock Photo

How can we reduce the impact of flying? 

There’s no way around it: aviation has a hefty carbon footprint. But there are ways to reduce the impact of flying.
As consumers, we can choose to:

  1. Take direct flights
  2. Fly in newer aircraft
  3. Buy economy class tickets
  4. Fly with sustainable airlines
  5. Prioritize eco-friendly airports
  6. Reduce your day-off impact

If you’ve decided air travel is your best option, you can still take steps to reduce your impact. Let’s take a look at how to fly sustainably – and why these choices matter. 

How to Fly Sustainably in 6 Simple Steps

1. Skip the Layover

One of the best ways to fly sustainably is to stay in the air and off the runway as much as possible. Takeoff and landing account for 25% of the emissions produced during a standard flight – for shorter journeys, even higher! 

A recent study found that a direct route saves an average of 100kg of CO2 per person than one with connecting flights. That’s the equivalent of powering a refrigerator for an entire year!

2. Look for Newer Aircraft

Every generation of aircraft makes advances in fuel economy, so flying in a newer vessel can help reduce your carbon footprint. Some apps and airlines highlight flights with lower-than-average emissions to save you the research. Skyscanner’s “greener choice” label uses fuel efficiency, carrying capacity, and distance traveled to calculate Earth-friendly options.

3. Fly Economy Class

Individual carbon emissions are calculated by the space a passenger takes up on an aircraft. When you fly economy-class, you swap the extra legroom for a lower footprint. Prefer priority seating? Studies show your ticket isn’t the only thing with a higher price tag. Flying business class can increase your impact three-fold. First-class? Up to nine times higher.

4. Fly with Sustainable Airlines

When it comes to flying sustainably, all airlines are not created equal. See how your carrier has performed in recent years with the Atmosfair Airline Index report, which takes into account aircraft model and age, passenger capacity, and occupancy rates. 

Here’s some good news for your footprint and your wallet: budget airlines tend to be more carbon-efficient. That’s because they make better use of space by offering more economy seats. Plus, since most budget airlines use a pay-as-you-go approach for add-ons like food, drinks, and additional baggage, they minimize waste and unnecessary weight onboard. 

5. Prioritize Eco-Friendly Airports

Reduce your footprint before you hit the runway by flying out of a green airport. These airports reduce emissions by powering their operations with alternative energy, investing in biofuels, or designing green principles into expansions and updates. Check this list of participating airports to see if there’s a planet-forward option near you.

6. Reduce Your Day-Of Impact

While your flight accounts for the majority of your carbon footprint, you can still reduce your day-of impact. Try these green travel tips for a lighter flight. 

  • Pre-Order Vegetarian: Swap the in-flight pot roast for a plant-based option to reduce your overall emissions for the day. 
  • Bring Reusables: Airlines generated 6.7 million pounds of cabin waste in 2018. Nip that number by bringing your own drink container, silverware, hand sanitizer, and face masks. 
  • Go Paperless: The planetary cost of a paper boarding pass is small, but the global airline industry serves millions of passengers each day. Download a digital ticket and play your part.
  • Pack Light: The heavier your luggage, the more fuel it takes to haul your stuff. Stick to the essentials for a lower carbon footprint.

How to Buy Carbon Offsets for Flights

While flying completely sustainably is still not possible, you can help compensate for the flight’s emissions you can't fully reduce. Carbon offsets allow governments, businesses, and individuals to contribute directly to programs working to remove C02e from the atmosphere. Your offset can support reforestation, renewable energy, direct carbon capture, energy efficiency improvements, and more.

It can be tempting to check “offset flight emissions” when you buy your ticket – and get on with your day. Unfortunately, there are a lot of questionable offset programs out there. It’s not always easy to tell the good from the bad, but it helps if you know what to look for. Fortunately, our blog How to Buy Carbon Offsets for your Flight takes a deep dive into the details of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Ready to kickstart your climate practice? 

Learning how to fly sustainably is only the beginning. Download Joro today to offset your next flight and receive personalized guidance to reduce and mitigate your personal emissions.

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

Grow your practice with exclusive tips and advice.

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