A Primer on Air Travel and Sustainability

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases, contributing around 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions. 

“The least-emitting flight is one that doesn’t happen at all,” says senior fuels researcher Nikita Pavlenko. While this advice is not necessarily practical for frequent travellers and those working in the airline sector, airlines must make it a priority to cut their emissions to stop climate change, according to climate scientists.


Sustainability for the future of travelMany airlines have made announcements about initiatives to improve their sustainability in upcoming years. Recently, Delta Air Lines pledged $1 billion to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. United Airlines and JetBlue both made commitments to get there by 2050. Similar promises have been made by a large number of other international carriers.

A primer on air travel and sustainability

Effects of air travel on the environment

1. Emission of greenhouse gases

The fuel used in aircraft engines releases carbon dioxide, water vapour, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and soot. While nitrogen oxide from aeroplane emissions causes pollution and contributes to global warming in the lower atmosphere, at higher altitudes they can destroy the ozone layer in the stratosphere.

It has even been shown that compared to other modes of transportation like driving, travelling by air has a larger environmental impact per kilometre. The aviation industry’s emission levels stagnate while those of other sectors experience notable improvements.

2. Noise pollution 

Noise as a result of the aviation industry can be regarded as debatable due to the transient nature of aviation noise. However, the noise has a significant impact on those who live at or near airports.


These individuals may experience a variety of negative impacts, such as sleep problems, performance issues, communication difficulties, as well as cardiovascular and psychological effects. Airport operators are accountable for the overall noise, and they should make sure that necessary processes are in place to set, monitor, and guarantee the effectiveness of noise insulation plans.


3. Contrails leading to global warming

Contrails (condensation trails) are line-shaped clouds formed by water vapour generated by aircraft engine exhaust. Contrails tend to form at higher altitudes, extending up to two kilometres from their original location.


They may look insignificant, but they trap heat that would otherwise be released from the earth. Studies show that night flights have a greater impact on global warming than day flights because contrails help reflect sunlight during the day.

Ways TO BE MORE SUSTAINABLE while flying 

1. Fly with airlines that have carbon offset and sustainability initiatives

For an additional price, certain airlines make donations to carbon offset programmes. Airlines that offer carbon offset and sustainability programmes calculate the cost of reducing the CO2 emissions from your flight, add the cost to your ticket, and give the money to carbon offset initiatives.

Unfortunately, participating airlines don’t always actively make an effort to advertise carbon offsets that they provide to the public. Hence, the best way to find out more is to inquire with the airlines directly.

2. Choose eco-friendly airlines

Choosing an airline that is actively doing its part is key for sustainability. While some airlines make little to no effort to be environmentally friendly, others work hard to offset their flights, reduce emissions, and use sustainable fuels.

If at all possible, make your booking with an airline provider that is actively reducing their environmental impact. Here are a few methods for identifying green airlines:

  • Choose airline carriers with newer aircraft. Older aircraft typically require more fuel for shorter trips, which produces more CO2.
  • Use websites that let you book flights that provide an “eco-friendly” option to find low-emissions flights.
  • Look through ICCT’s rankings of airlines’ fuel efficiency to make more environmentally-friendly decisions for your travels.

3. Consider non-stop flights to limit layovers

A multi-flight itinerary uses more fuel than a non-stop journey. Booking that layover flight might save your travel expenses, but you’ll pay a premium in emissions because aeroplane takeoffs and landings utilise a lot of fuel. Your carbon impact increases with every layover you decide to take.

If possible, plan a direct flight to your destination and if transfers are necessary, only reserve them for the ones you actually need. Try to choose a layover that is near or on the same direct route if you can’t avoid one.

4. Take daytime flights for minor environmental benefits

To be clear, flying during the day will not significantly reduce your personal carbon footprints. However, during daytime flights, the contrails and cirrus clouds produced assist in reflecting solar radiation back into space.

In short, night flights tend to trap heat from the earth, while daytime flights help to repel heat from the sun. Even if it seems like a small difference, it helps to combat the rise in global average temperatures.

5. Use ground transportation for shorter trips

Over shorter distances, trains and cars produce less carbon dioxide. Flying is faster than driving, but if you’re only going for a short distance, it’s usually not worth the environmental impact. Consider driving or taking public transport if you need to go to a relatively closer destination.

Trains are frequently the greatest alternatives in many countries as they are more environmentally friendly than cars or planes. However, if you decide to travel by car, choose a smaller gas-powered or electric car for greater sustainability.


6. Flying less often

You generate a significant carbon footprint when you take unnecessary flights. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid all long-distance family visits or feel bad about enjoying the occasional vacation—however, you shouldn’t fly if you don’t have to. You can reduce your use of air travel and still encourage sustainability by: 

  • Conducting business meetings over the phone or via video conferences
  • Choosing vacations closer to home to avoid flying 
  • Staying at your destination for a longer period
  • Planning ahead to “budget” your carbon footprint by making one long trip every few years rather than several shorter ones every year


travel responsibly with Holiday Tours 

In the face of these challenges to the environment, our devotion is stronger than ever—to ensure that we create the least possible negative influence, and to redefine our responsible travel philosophy to minimise our environmental impact.



REACH OUT TO US AT +603 2303 9100 (PRESS 3) OR [email protected]

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