If you regularly find yourself stuck in airports, you should think twice about how important those flights actually are. There may be times when you feel you do need to fly - seeing relatives, exploring far away places, or attending a critical work event. That’s okay! But there are also times when you can choose not to fly, and feel good about it.
Talk with your co-workers and clients about why flying less is important to you, and find ways to change the travel policies. Choosing a video conference instead of a flight can save everyone time and money, and helps reduce stress. Cutting just one return economy class flight between New York and Los Angeles could save as much as 0.6 metric tonnes of CO2 – that’s the same amount of emissions that the average person in Bangladesh produces in an entire year! Not everyone has the privilege of flying, but if you fly frequently, taking a few less flights is one of the best ways to dramatically reduce carbon pollution.
If you’re flying for work, consider asking if you can replace your flight with a video call to win back that time you would have spent in airport security and queues. If you're flying regularly to the same location, consider bundling out-of-town meetings together; less frequent, longer trips make the most of each flight. If you’re often traveling for workshops, seminars or conferences, ask if you can appear virtually or look for online options instead - technology has come a long way and virtual events keep getting better.
Talk to your employer and your co-workers about changing your organization’s flying policy. You could also encourage your employer to join the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance.
If you feel you need to fly, use a flight comparison tool that shows carbon emission estimates, like Google Flights. Remember, regional flights emit the most carbon per kilometer traveled, flying business class or first class results in more emissions than flying economy and layovers tend to emit more than non-stop direct flights.
If you’re frequently traveling for leisure, think about taking rail, the bus, or driving instead. They may work out cheaper than flying and make the journey part of the adventure!
Not hopping from airport to airport means you can take things slower, and have more time for yourself or be present for the people around you, which helps to reduce stress. You won’t have to endure those security queues, uncomfortable seats and long waits in airports.
You’ll also be joining a growing number of people who are proud to be members of the infrequent flyers club. Many climate scientists, who rely on travel to do their job but are aware of the big impact today’s airplanes have, are also flying less often. Every person who chooses to fly less frequently helps to shift flying from a casual commute to the special occasion it should be.
If you can get your employer to replace flights with video calls, you could help save your company time and money, while reducing carbon pollution. Video calls could save businesses over US$4 trillion in business travel and 143 billion hours lost to unproductive travel time. It would also reduce emissions by nearly 4 gigatons of carbon dioxide over 30 years - that’s like turning off 958 coal power plants for one year.
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3.8 gigatons of carbon emissions is equal to the annual emissions of 958 coal power plants.
560 kg of carbon emissions is equal to burning 619 lbs of coal
A return trip from New York to Los Angeles results in 560 kg carbon emissions.
By avoiding emissions from business air travel, telepresence can reduce emissions by 1–3.8 gigaton of carbon dioxide over 30 years.
Nonstop flights and the use of fuel-efficient aircraft or airlines are likely to yield fewer emissions than alternatives on the same route.
The radiation dose rate at typical commercial airline flight altitude (35,000 feet) is about 0.003 millisieverts per hour.
The risk of venous thromboembolism is increased 2 to 3-fold after long-haul flights (>4 h) and also with other forms of travel involving prolonged seated immobility
While a smaller portion of total travel, regional flights have the highest carbon intensity per passenger kilometer.
Impact metric calculations
To determine the carbon emission reduction estimates related to switching to flying less, the following calculations were performed:
Baseline Air Travel: (# of flights/month) x (country-specific kg CO2e/mile) x (miles/flight) = kg CO2e / month
Lower Emitting Alternative: (# of alternate travel trips/month) x (country-specific kg CO2e/mile) x (miles/alternate transit) = kg CO2e / month
Total: Baseline Air Travel – Lower Emitting Alternative = kg CO2e/month
For detailed calculations, references and assumptions, please see our Methodology.