More than 4 billion people will take a flight this year – but which are the most sustainable airlines to travel with and how can you fly greener?
Air travel has a bit of a bad reputation thanks to its high carbon footprint and the eyewatering amount of waste it generates, but there’s no denying that it’s often the most convenient, affordable and enjoyable way to travel and see the world.
Thankfully the growing global aviation industry, which is is predicted to double to 8.2 billion passengers by 2037, has started introducing measures to improve its impact on the environment. The majority of airlines today have a sustainability policy in place (these can usually be found on the airline’s website) and many have pledged to reduce their environmental impact over the coming years in line with the industry’s commitment to achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and to cut net carbon emissions by 50% compared to 2005.
The introduction of carbon offsetting schemes, investment in biofuel technology and waste recycling programmes (ever wondered what happens to all of the waste that the flight attendants have collected on your flight?) are all helping to make flying more sustainable – here are some of the airlines leading the way to make greener air travel possible:
Air New Zealand
This month Air New Zealand announced that is has been crowned Eco Airline of the Year at the Air Transport World Airline Industry Awards – considered the ‘Oscars of the airline industry’.
The Eco-Airline of the Year award recognises Air New Zealand’s sustainability work, including its commitment to reducing waste through its Project Green initiative, engagement with and support for regional New Zealand communities and reducing carbon emissions both within the airline’s own operations and encouraging travellers to do the same through its voluntary carbon offsetting programme, FlyNeutral.
“We’re delighted to be recognised as a corporate leader in sustainability; it’s great recognition of the efforts of our people at all levels of the organisation,” said Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon. “We’ve made good progress, but we know we need to continue building on this momentum.”
Over the past 12 months, Air New Zealand has saved 7,300 tonnes of carbon by using electricity to power aircraft while at the gate, and more than 16 million individual items from on board aircraft, such as sealed beverages and unopened snacks, have been recovered for reuse or recycling rather than going to landfill through the airline’s Project Green initiative. In 2018, the airline removed single-use plastic items from on board its aircraft and its lounges. The move is expected to save 260,000 plastic toothbrushes, 3,000 straws, 7.1 million stirrers and 260,000 eye mask wrappers from landfill.
If you’ve ever taken a flight before, you might have noticed the abundance of single use plastic that accompanied your flight – from the plastic cups and cutlery wrapped in plastic wrapping; to milk cartons and coffee stirrers – and often this seems to get bundled in with all the other waste when scooped up by the flight attendent.
In 2018, Portuguese airline Hi Fly announced its pledge to completely eliminate the use of avoidable and single use plastics on its aircrafts and at its offices before the end of 2019, and on Boxing Day 2018 made its first plastic free test flight from Lisbon to Brazil on an Airbus A340. “Up until now, human beings have believed the ocean is an inexhaustible source of food and pleasure as well as a limitless garbage dump,” said Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri. “The reality however, is that the ocean has its limits, and they are very close to being reached. We can no longer ignore the impact plastic contamination has on ecosystems, as well as on human health.”
The company has also been taking action internally action to reduce the use of single use plastic across the business. “We started off with small initiatives such as installing water stations throughout our headquarters and other facilities, and distributing reusable water bottles to our employees,” said Paulo Mirpuri. “We’ve now been moving towards implementing new measures and processes that completely remove the use of plastic in all possible ways.”
In December, Scandinavian airline SAS launched its new SAS Comfort Kit for its long-haul Business Class passengers, which consists of products from Scandinavian brands carefully selected for innovative design, solid craftmanship and respect from both a social and environmental aspect.
The airline says that the five products from prominent and forward-thinking Scandinavian brands are the perfect combination of products to help ensure a pleasant trip and also share the values of supporting and promoting a sustainable lifestyle.
“Collaborating with suppliers focusing on Scandinavian sustainable design and sustainable travel is of the utmost priority for SAS. We work with everything from aircraft that are more fuel efficient, partnerships to develop biofuel, choice of lighter weight cabin fittings, to biodegradable packaging plus choice of partners that pursue such developments,” said Karl Sandlund, Executive Vice President Commercial. “We are proud to offer something extra and unique to our modern travelers, who, like SAS, value high quality, local design and sustainable products.”
Each SAS Comfort Kit contains a Fillipa K washbag and eyemask, a Humble Co bamboo toothbrush, Swedish Stockings socks made from recycled material, Verso Skincare skin cream and lip balm, and Swedsafe ear plugs.
Read more tips for how to offset your carbon emissions when travelling, and see our guide for how to travel plastic free.
Still looking for inspiration for where to go next? See our favourite eco-friendly hotels and resorts and the world’s most sustainable cities to visit.