In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of the impact that flying has on the environment. The aviation industry is currently responsible for 2% of global emissions but is one of the fastest-growing contributors.

Whilst flying has become a huge part of our modern lifestyle, there are a number of steps we can take to reduce its impact on our planet. Here are 8 ideas…

1. Opt for fuel-efficient aircraft

Generally, the newer the plane, the fewer emissions it will emit. Aim to fly on the following fuel-efficient aircraft:

  • Airbus A320
  • Airbus A321neo
  • Airbus A330neo
  • Airbus A350
  • Boeing 737 MAX (currently out of service)
  • Boeing 787 Dreamliner
United planes on SFO tarmac
A 787 is more efficient than an A380 or 747

Plus, these aircraft tend to have airlines’ latest seat types, increasing your comfort whilst in the air.

Older aircraft such as the Airbus A340 and Boeing 747 tend to perform more poorly in terms of emissions.

2. Buy carbon offsets

All four major Australian airlines—Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair—offer the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets when booking a flight on their websites. Other popular international carriers like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and United allow you to buy carbon offsets too.

A standout is the ability to earn 10 Qantas Points per $ spent on carbon offsets with Qantas. Given our valuation of Qantas Points at 1.9c each, that’s like an almost 20% cashback on your purchase. The airline will also match every contribution.

For example, a return flight between Sydney and Melbourne will emit just under 150kg of CO₂. Qantas offers the ability to purchase a carbon offset for $2. Note that you must purchase the offsets at the time of booking (not afterwards). Points land in your account within a week.

You can also offset a flight with any carrier (not just Qantas) through the Qantas Future Planet website. Whilst you won’t earn the 10 points per $ spent, this transaction will count as Qantas or travel spend on any eligible credit card that you use.

My advice is to purchase credits through agencies that carry the Australian Government’s Carbon Neutral Certification or are endorsed by Climate Active. Some popular providers are:

3. Fly nonstop

Why take two flights when you can get there quicker with just one? Admittedly, nonstop flights can often charge a premium over connecting ones. However, given that ~25% emissions come from takeoff and landing, the less you’re contributing to that, the better.

Singapore Airlines plane
A plane uses about a quarter of its fuel taking off and landing

For example, taking a nonstop Sydney – San Francisco flight compared to flying via Los Angeles will reduce your emissions by more than 20%. Plus, you’ll shave at least three hours off your travel time.

4. Holiday closer to home

This one is pretty self-explanatory. The shorter the flight, the less pollution is emitted.

For example, let’s say you are dreaming of a beach holiday to ward off the winter blues. Choosing to fly in Economy Class from Sydney to Fiji instead of The Maldives reduces your emissions by a whopping 66%.

Fiji is closer to the East Coast of Australia than Bali, Phuket or The Maldives

To put that in perspective, the 786 kg of emissions saved by flying to Fiji instead of The Maldives is like turning all the power for your house off for a whole month.

5. Pack lighter

Can you fit everything in your carry-on? If so, that will have a direct impact on the amount of fuel burned during your flight.

Carry-on luggage
Avoiding checking luggage also means you can get straight out of the airport when you arrive to your destination

If you’re flying low-cost and need to purchase checked baggage, aim for 15kg or 20kg rather than a heavier allowance.

6. Check-in online

Paper is so early 2000s! Check-in online and get a mobile boarding pass.

Boarding pass
Paper boarding passes won’t show updated flight information, like delays or gate changes, but those on your phone will

7. Consider transport alternatives

For shorter distances, travelling by train, bus or carshare can be better for the environment. I like to use Rome2rio to explore the alternatives for transport between two points.

Say you need to get from Madrid to Barcelona. This used to be the world’s second-busiest air route—but then high-speed rail arrived. Still, you can take the 75-minute flight—or you can opt for a 2½-hour train. Which would you prefer?

Rome2rio screenshot
The high-speed train between Madrid and Barcelona is so popular that airlines have cut 80% of their flights over the past decade

Well, once you take into account the extra time it takes to get to the airport, go through security, wait for and board your flight, then deplane and get to the city centre of Barcelona, it’s actually an hour quicker by train. Plus, the emissions are 85% lower by train. That’s a win-win!

8. Take public transport to and from the airport

This one’s pretty simple to. Given flying isn’t the best choice for the environment, why not make a small contribution by taking public transport to and from the airport?

However, that can be difficult when you arrive at an unknown destination. In that case, I like to use Google Maps before my flight so I know what my options are when I arrive.

For example, I can plug in an approximate time I think I would’ve cleared immigration and picked up my bags arriving in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. I can see that I have a number of public transport options to get me to the Ginza District in just over half an hour.

Google Maps screenshot
Google Maps has a comprehensive tool to compare public transport options in cities all over the world

What’s great is that I can also see what traffic would be like if I took rideshare. It’s estimated at 18-28 minutes at the time I entered (6pm), so the difference is minimal. Plus, public transport is more often than not cheaper than travelling by car.

Frequently asked questions

How can I buy carbon offsets for Qantas flights?

Qantas gives the option to buy carbon offsets at the time of booking your flight at qantas.com. This is the best time to do so as you can earn 10 Qantas Points per $ spent. You can also purchase carbon offsets after booking but you won’t earn points.

How can I buy carbon offsets for Virgin Australia flights?

If you book directly at virginaustralia.com, you can use cash or Velocity Points to buy carbon offsets. Look for the Carbon Offset option under Travel Extras. If you’ve already made your booking, go to Manage Bookings.

How can I buy carbon offsets for Jetstar flights?

You can carbon offset your flight when you book on jetstar.com. However, if you have already made your booking, you can go to the Qantas Future Planet website.

How can I buy carbon offsets for Tigerair flights?

You can carbon offset your flight when booking online at tigerair.com.au. You’ll find it on the Travel Extras page. If you’ve already made your booking, go to Manage My Booking and select Fly Carbon Neutral.

How can I buy carbon offsets for Singapore Airlines flights?

Singapore Airlines does not yet offer the option to buy carbon offsets when booking on the airlines’ website. Therefore, you’ll need to purchase offsets through a third party. Look for one with the Australian Government’s Carbon Neutral Certification.

How can I buy carbon offsets for Emirates flights?

Emirates does not yet offer the option to buy carbon offsets when booking on the airlines’ website. Therefore, you’ll need to purchase offsets through a third party. Look for one with the Australian Government’s Carbon Neutral Certification.

Emirates A380 on tarmac
Some major international airlines like Emirates do not yet offer the ability to carbon offset your flights with them

Summing up

There are more environmentally-friendly alternatives to flying, like catching a train or bus or not travelling at all. However, travel is often necessary for work or to visit loved ones. Plus, it can be hugely beneficial in learning about other ways of life and exploring different parts of this planet.

There are a number of ways that we can reduce the impact of our flying on the environment.

Do you have any other suggestions to reduce the environmental impact of flying?

8 things you can do to make your flying more eco-friendly was last modified: February 22nd, 2020 by Matt Moffitt