Do you want to be a climate-conscious flyer?

Co-authored by Sreeram Sridhar.

Our ecological footprint matters if we intend to live a sustainable life. One of the biggest contributors to this footprint is air travel. According to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, the CO2 emission by airlines has increased by 32% from 2013 to 2018. Using a simple method like the Ecological Footprint Calculator, you’ll be able to see that one inter-continental air travel can alter your ecological footprint by at least 2 global hectares (gha). Many people who used the calculator after an earlier post on Eco-intelligent (How can you develop environmental accountability?) shared this view. If you fly often and are concerned about climate change, this post is for you. With a few conscious decisions, you can manage your air travel and reduce your ecological footprint.

Please note: We suggest not to travel by air if you can avoid it. This is especially the case when you are travelling short distances to locations within your country or within the small region connected by railroads. Travel within Europe or a country like India can be easily done using the railways, reducing your footprint and also allowing you to enjoy beautiful vistas.
If you do need to travel by air, travelling economy would be a great way to reduce your footprint. Business-class travel has a larger footprint because of the greater space you occupy in the flight. And of course, avoid private jets at all costs.

Voluntary Carbon Offset Programs


In addition to reducing your footprint by travelling economy, you can also mitigate your ecological footprint by opting for voluntary carbon offset programs run by your chosen airline. A passenger’s CO2 emissions are calculated per ticket, based on the distance traveled, time taken for the travel, space occupied by the passenger, etc. Then, a cost against this emission is calculated, and if the passenger is willing, is charged to him/her. This cost becomes the airline’s contribution to carbon mitigation projects around the world.
For example, according to an initiative by the Swiss-based myclimate foundation in partnership with Lufthansa, an Economy class passenger’s CO2 emission from Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) to John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is 842 kg and the amount to offset the same is EUR 17.00/Rs.1356.91.

Another example of a great CO2 offset program is by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. They estimate that an Economy class passenger emits 862 kg of CO2 from Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) to John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and the offset charge levied is EUR 7.22/Rs.576.

Airlines use different computation methodologies and is usually a closely-guarded secret. As in the above examples, we notice that even though the amount of CO2 emission is similar, the amount charged differs by 57.5%.

Regardless, we believe that the it is the initiative that counts. By acknowledging the enormous ecological footprint they produce, airlines are contributing to mitigate the global climate crisis. As a responsible flyer, you can also support this movement by flying with airlines that run carbon offset programs, and choose to pay the small amount that will make you a carbon-neutral traveler.

Author: Saurab Babu

Usually found sitting with a good book, nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate. Always ready for a good story.

14 thoughts

  1. Awesome post as always Saurab! I re-took the quiz last week as a year end assessment of sorts; flying again accounted for nearly 50% of my emission. This post is also timely given Joaquin Phoenix’s speech at the Golden Globe…


    1. Thank you, Yue!
      Yes, you were one of the many people who told me how flying was impacting your footprint, and it’s what led me to publish this post. Have you ever opted to pay for an offset program when you have flown home?

      I haven’t watched that speech yet, I shall now that you’ve pointed it out (not really an award shows person :P)

      Oh, and a Happy New Year to you!


      1. I do buy offsets, although I have some skepticism about how accurate the calculations are and how effective the various programs are! I’d love to understand them better, if you ever have an interest in tackling that topic 🙂


      2. The calculations are a closely guarded secret, from what I found out from my co-author for this post. He’s interning at one of these airline companies…so I am also intrigued now 😛


      3. Hmm…that is VERY interesting. If airlines guard the info, how would external organizations selling offsets have the capabilities to ensure their calculations are accurate? I’d be keen to read your research if you end up looking into this!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Airline only sell their offsets to specific programs around the world that they have chosen (from what I have understood). I doubt if there is any third-party verification, unless it is a state-owned airlines. But yes, I will certainly write about it if I get sufficient information!


  2. It’s a well written post!
    I will definitely keep that in mind while travelling next. While there are a couple of things that I liked about this post, I genuinely appreciate the usage of a light tone and the careful usage of the term ‘carbon-neutral’.

    Keep it up!


    1. As far as I’m aware, no Indian airline has an offset program at the moment, Nitha. But Air India is working with UN’s aviation arm to develop the specs to implement a global carbon offset program.

      Maybe we’ll have an offset program in the next couple of years.

      Liked by 1 person

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