Airlines sit in a tricky position. On the one hand, they facilitate one of the greatest joys in life: holidays & exploring the world. But on the other, they’re repeatedly called out for their pollution, with RyanAir being named one of Europe’s biggest polluters earlier this year. With many consumers stuck between their love for exploring our planet and their anxiety over destroying it, how can airlines credibly react?

Carbon offset methods are rising on the agenda, from funding eco-research, to social projects and planting trees. It’s a way to soothe the conscience and do a little good. Some consumers do this themselves, but some airlines are acting to take out the middleman. Jack’s Flight Club have recently announced that for every new premium member sign-up, they will be planting 10 trees. An easy & effortless way to remove the responsibility from the consumer, is this going to become an industry norm, or will consumers see it just as a way to glorify a membership scheme?

And what if you could get eco a step before that; when choosing your flights? SkyScanner have started to indicate which routes have the lowest carbon impact. Calculated by a mixture of aircraft type, typical emissions and passenger usage. They are able to highlight what might be a more eco option and put the power in the consumer’s hands to make a choice before paying for the flight. How would consumers react to certain routes or aircrafts being stamped as eco-friendly, even within one airline’s offering?

Outside of carbon emissions, some airlines are demonstrating their commitment to a more sustainable future in other areas. At the beginning of May, Qantas completed an industry first: a ‘zero waste flight’ with all its waste being compostable, reusable or recyclable. If you’ve ever eaten on a flight you’ll know the amount of plastic typically involved in airline trips. Getting on the front foot and proactively facing the problem head on shows willing and dedication to a tricky problem to tackle, even if carbon emissions are completely out of the conversation.

Sweden has invented the word ‘flygskam to express the growing shame around taking flights, and Greta Thunberg’s tour of Europe by train is highlighting what is possible outside of flights (and pointing to the opportunity for train services…). It is time for airlines to craft a reaction to a problem that is only getting more media attention as time goes on. Wanderlust is not about to go out of fashion, and business isn’t going to stop being international, so how can airlines continue to connect the world and facilitate fantastic trips without ignoring the growing hysteria around climate change?

Categories: Travel & Lifestyle

BY ENGINEER Lucinda Toole

Lucinda.toole@thevalueengineers.com