Thanks to air travel, global communities are more connected than ever before, but there’s a downside to all those flights… increased carbon emissions.
That’s why using a flight carbon calculator to learn the emissions generated by airline and trip mileage is also growing in popularity. By measuring the carbon footprint of a flight, you can effectively reduce it.
Calculate your trip right now!
(Keep in mind, that although personal emissions depend on a number of factors -such as seating location and number of passengers per flight- each flight generates a specific amount of carbon emissions, regardless of how many people are on the plane, because calculations are based on fuel consumption, which is constant.)
Little Known Facts About Airline Emissions
More airlines are joining the climate fight with every passing day. As the realization of this industry’s environmental impact grows more widespread, movements like Airlines for America or “A4A,” Air Canada’s Leaveless program, or similar initiatives, continue to pop up, advancing the industry’s efforts to reduce their emissions.
According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), passenger airline travel is improving, but the climate-friendly changes are not rolling in “fast enough to offset traffic growth.”1
Emissions from commercial aviation operations increased by 29% total between 2013-2019. The vast majority of these – 85% – come from passenger transport. Worries spiked even more when the ICCT report also stated that, during this period, commercial aviation emissions rose about 70% faster than the United Nations (UN) had previously predicted. This is devastating, as the numbers were set to triple by 2050.1
Yet, there’s still a glimmer of hope.
Average passenger emissions fell by 2% between 2018 and 2019, and an even more substantial 12% from 2013 to 2019.1
Although these types of programs are always admirable, some airlines have further to go than others in reaching their climate goals.
Flight Routes with the Highest Carbon Emissions: Global Footprint of Tourism
The ICCT has given the public an in-depth analysis of airlines’ CO2 emissions by route and airport, empowering flyers to mitigate their environmental damage before ever stepping foot in an airport. The top ten routes with the highest emissions were:2
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Honolulu International Airport (HNL): 1645 lbs CO2/passenger
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO): 1435 lbs CO2/passenger
- LAX to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): 1413 lbs CO2/passenger
- LAX to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): 1413 lbs CO2/passenger
- EWR to SFO: 1349 lbs CO2/passenger
- LAX to BOS: 1329 lbs CO2/passenger
- SFO to JFK: 1307 lbs CO2/passenger
- O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to SFO: 1265 lbs CO2/passenger
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to LAX: 1202 lbs CO2/passenger
- LAX to ORD: 1202 lbs CO2/passenger
These numbers represent the maximum one-way emissions each airplane produced per passenger. Remember that these routes aren’t necessarily guaranteed to harm the planet.
For instance, the pathway with the highest emissions can also produce significantly lower GHG levels, sometimes getting as low as 613 lbs CO2/passenger from LAX to HNL.2
On the contrary, routes associated with the lowest emissions can also be the most hazardous. For example, flying from LAX to LAS can release as little as 106 lbs CO2/passenger. However, some values from the same route can get as high as 295 lbs CO2/passenger.2
So… What’s the difference?
The individual airline’s performance.
How You Can Reduce Your Flight Carbon Emissions
Just like ground vehicles, aircraft manufacturers vary greatly in their engineering standards and performance.
Plus, elements such as flight practices and fuel choices – which differ between companies – significantly affect the airplane’s emissions.
With this said, it may seem that your air travel emissions are out of your control. But they’re not! By making a few small-yet-wise travel choices, you can make a pretty big dent in your carbon footprint.
These three factors alone could make a huge difference in your flight impact:
- Layovers or no layovers? It turns out: Layovers are not just a pain for you, but the environment, too. The ICCT states, “the data confirm that a nonstop flight is likely to emit less CO2 per passenger than an itinerary with layovers.” Yet, despite nonstop flight emissions falling into the 24th percentile (1st percentile being the lowest emitting), some of these flights can release more GHGs than one-stop itineraries on the same route.2
Note: The number of stops doesn’t always correlate with a lower emissions level. Still, it’s a useful metric for judging your potential travel impacts.2
- Where should you sit? It’s not just a matter of convenience. Where you sit on a flight plays an integral role in how damaging your flight will be to the environment. A 2020 study revealed that “premium class” seating can be far more environmentally destructive than the economy class, accounting for 2.6-4.3 times more CO2 per kilometer.2
- Where will you be flying to and from? Even your departure and arrival airport choices will substantially impact your flight’s carbon dioxide emissions. For example, between JFK and LAX (both in the world’s top ten airports), an American would be better off choosing LAX for international flights, since these emissions are lower than JFK’s. However, JFK has significantly lower domestic flights, so it would be best for short trips to a different state. Overall, though, JFK has more CO2 emissions from passenger transport.1
Choosing the Best Airline – Carbon Emissions Ranked
Selecting the best airline for your flight entails quite a bit of research. You’ll need to know more than just the airline’s yearly GHG emissions, but the quality of its aircraft and how they’re actively working to reduce their environmental damage.
The ICCT illustrated one of the most crucial aspects of this decision process with an at-a-glance look at the world’s highest-emitting regional aircraft (in terms of passenger CO2 emissions) in 2019:1
- Embraer E190: 10.52 tons CO2
- Embraer E175: 7.65 tons CO2
- Canadair CRJ900: 7.05 tons CO2
- De Havilland Dash 8-400: 4.37 tons CO2
- Embraer E195: 3.87 tons CO2
- ATR 72-600: 3.62 tons CO2
- Embraer ERJ145: 3.35 tons CO2
- Canadair CRJ200: 3.25 tons CO2
- Canadair CRJ700: 3.20 tons CO2
- Embraer E170: 2.69 tons CO2
The most recent ICCT analysis showed that the following carriers have the highest per-passenger emissions, even with the least-emitting itinerary:2
- American Airlines: 132-573 lbs CO2/passenger
- Delta: 176-617 lbs CO2/passenger
- United Airlines: 170-270 lbs CO2/passenger
- Alaska: 374-595 lbs CO2/passenger
- JetBlue: 418-970 lbs CO2/passenger
Fly Smart to Save the World
Fortunately, you don’t have to give up your dream of traveling the world to be eco-friendly. All it takes is a few wise decisions and background research on airlines like United Airlines or Air Canada to ensure your air travel choices contribute to a more sustainable future.
Of course, even if you choose the most eco-friendly airlines and least emitting routes, there will still be CO2 released into the atmosphere during your travels. If you want to be completely carbon neutral, you can effectively mitigate all of these emissions with the best carbon offset providers.
So even if you cannot avoid your flight’s emissions, you can do something to make up for them. Measure your emissions with a flight carbon calculator or with an ecological footprint calculator to learn how much to offset, and get started saving the planet today.
Learn More About Flight Emissions:
Calculate Your Flight’s Carbon Emissions and Go Green in Seconds
Carbon Offsets for Private Jets: Fly Climate Neutral with Verified Carbon Offsets
Delta Airlines Carbon Offsets Now Letting Passengers Fly Green
Emirates Flights: Carbon Neutral Air Travel Now Possible with Carbon Offsets
Helicopter Carbon Offsets: Neutralize Flight Emissions and Fly Green
How Does Ryanair Use Your Carbon Offset Donation?
Leaveless: Reviewing Air Canada’s Carbon Offset Program
United Airlines Carbon Offsets: Reviewing Eco-Skies Program with Conservation International
1Graver, B., Rutherford, D., & Zheng, S. (2020). CO2 emissions from commercial aviation: 2013, 2018, and 2019. The International Council on Clean Transportation. Retrieved August 8, 2021, from https://theicct.org/publications/co2-emissions-commercial-aviation-2020
2Zheng, X. S., & Rutherford, D. (2021). Working Paper 2021-27 | Variation in aviation emissions by itinerary: The case for emissions disclosure. The International Council on Clean Transportation. Retrieved August 8, 2021, from https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/variation-aviation-emissions-itinerary-jul2021-1.pd