Book your Air Travel with a Green Airline

How to Spot Characteristics of an Eco-Friendly Airline

Choosing an eco-friendly airline

Three percent. That’s the size of the airline industry’s contribution to climate change, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)[1] (though the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us the airline industry is responsible for a total of 4.9% of all human-caused climate impacts worldwide). And though the industry as a whole is working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, as a sector, they still contribute a significant amount to our overall global warming problem. So it behooves us to look for ways to reduce our own impact by flying airlines that take climate change seriously!

Easier said than done. When it comes to comparing one airline to another in terms of their green efforts, it’s like comparing apples to screwdrivers (although some have tried! SeatGuru has a nice summary of some of the big airlines’ green efforts and Green America recently rated airlines on waste handling). Finding common ground on which to evaluate one against the other is difficult at best. By and large, most airlines are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact in one way or another. But where they excel in one area, they fall down completed in others.

Consider, for instance, that Northwest Airlines has removed spoons (yes, you read that right!) from all in-flight meals in order to reduce their weight, yet their fleet is one of the oldest in the sky, resulting in terrible fuel efficiency.[2] Similarly, while American Airlines has done a lot to improve its fuel efficiency and recycling efforts, it hasn’t yet worked on serving eco-friendly foods and its carbon offset program is not as carbon neutral as you might think.


Finding greener airlines

So the challenge is big. Nevertheless, there are questions you can ask when booking a flight to see which airline in your list of options ranks highest on the green scale:

  • Does the airline have a policy that sets ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Look for things like a set goal for cutting carbon, as well as initiative such as reduced number of flights/planes, increased number of direct flights, reduction in on-board weight, newer planes, slower flight speeds, addition of winglets (wing tip extensions), and reduced tarmac delays (burning fuel while idling is costly).
  • Does the airline have a program for reducing the toxicity of their operations? For instance, are they actively re-capturing glycol during de-icing procedures? Are they attempting to use biofuels?
  • Does the airline offer carbon offsetting for all flights? Are businesses and consumers (whether frequent fliers or those who fly once every year) able to neutralize their flights through certified carbon offsetting programs?
  • Is the airline working to reduce their municipal waste? They could be forgoing printed in-flight magazines, recycling all food service items, and even using real dishes rather than disposables.

By doing a little research before you click “Book it!” you can determine whether one of the airlines rates better than the others. Whether or not there’s a clear winner, be sure to write a letter or email to your chosen airline to express your environmental concerns. Bring up the above guidelines and ask them to push harder to reduce their environmental impact. Your voice matters as a future passenger!

What’s next?

Phew! You’ve got your greener flight booked and are ready to head out on a more eco-friendly airline trip. But wait, are there things you can do as a passenger to reduce your impact while in the air? Read how to be a green airline passenger.


[1] Aviation's Climate Change Impact is Small. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2010, from International Air Transport Association:
[2] NWA Fleet Nation's Oldest On Average. (2008, April 13). Retrieved March 24, 2008, from WCCO: 2010

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