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Tips for flying more eco-friendly

Emma Langley

As everyone becomes more environmentally conscious, flying in an eco-friendly way has become much more of a hot topic, with people wondering what exactly can be done to reduce your carbon footprint and plastic waste when flying. So, Alternative Airlines has put together the best tricks and tips to help reduce the environmental impact of your flights.

How to fly more eco-friendly

1. Choose an eco-friendly airline

Most of the emissions and waste that come from flying is set by the airline itself, meaning you aren’t in control of the majority of the environmental damage of your flying. However, you can minimise your environmental footprint by doing your research and choosing an eco-friendly airline. Not only can you check out our page for the most eco-friendly airlines, but you can also do additional research by checking what aircraft you will be flying on. You’ll find that newer models are more fuel-efficient, with aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 leading the way in the industry. You can do even more research by using tools such as our ‘Carbon Calculator’, which shows CO2 emissions for your flight, meaning you can compare similar airlines and routes to find the most environmentally friendly route. You might find a flight which is much lower in emissions but is only a little bit more expensive, however, surely a bit extra is worth saving the environment.

airline mountain

2. Choose an eco-friendly airport

Deciding where you fly is an important factor in the overall environmental impact of your flight. There are some airports leading the way to be more sustainable, such as those making their own energy from wind power or water. Have a look at our page on the most sustainable airports around the world, including airports with lots of traffic such as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), but also airports in more remote destinations such as Seymour Airport (GPS) in the Galapagos Islands, which runs completely on its own energy!

Top Tip: If you’re flying to an airport in North America, look out for one which has HMSHost. This restaurateur is leading the way for eco-friendly airport facilities, becoming more sustainable by reducing waste through recently banning plastic straws and also having a great food donation programme which reduced the amount of food going to landfill, and instead going to those in need.

solar panels

3. Fly in Economy Class

Flying economy is much more eco-friendly than its higher-class counterparts of business or first. As mentioned, the energy and fuel required to operate a plane is so large, so the more people that fit into a plane, the better. This is because in business and first class, there’s more space per passenger, meaning an inefficient use of space. Whereas in economy, there are more passengers benefiting from the same amount of fuel, equaling less emissions per passenger. So, think of the environment next time you moan about being squished into a small economy seat ― although it may be more uncomfortable for you, it is a small step towards reducing the size of your environmental footprint.

Top tip: If you want to still be able to have a comfortable journey but stay in economy, check out the best airlines for their economy cabin seats!

4. Fly with a low-cost airline

Great news for budget-travellers ― flying with low-cost or even ultra-low cost airlines are better for the environment! This is partly due to them typically offering more economy class seats and making the best use of aircraft space as mentioned in tip #3, but also due to the unbundling of fares. This means that passengers will only have to pay for what they want such as meals or checked baggage, resulting in less waste and less weight on the plane so a greater fuel efficiency.

Airplane cabin aiesle economy class

5. Fly direct with a non-stop flight, rather than one with a layover

A non-stop flight is a flight with no stops between your departure airport to your destination airport. Not only do these types of flight mean less fuel and emissions for your flight, but it also saves you a huge amount of time in long connections and wasted time at the airport. In fact, if your flight has a stopover, it can increase the flight’s total emissions by up to 35%. At Alternative Airlines, you can search for and buy non-stop flights ― simply check out our guide here.

6. Pack light

With unbundled fares becoming more normalised and checked baggage often being a paid-for extra, many travellers are already used to packing light to reduce the cost of their flights. However, packing lighter and only bringing the things you actually need can not only save you some extra money, but it can also help reduce the emissions of your flight. Although you may be disgruntled at the thought of being charged extra money for a checked bag, try to pack light and fit it all in your free hand luggage, saving the environment and your hard-earned money.

You might think that the weight of your baggage won't make a difference. But, if everyone aimed to pack 2lbs (0.9kg) less than normal, it would be equivalent to removing over 10,000 cars from the road annually!

light backpack

7. Bring your own in-cabin items

Reducing fuel emissions is only one way you can fly more eco-friendly, with reducing your waste being another key point. In a typical flight, there are so many disposable items that are used which could be replaced by reusable items. Think of the numerous drinking cups, water bottles, packaged snacks and earphones that get used in one flight alone ― many of which are often in their own plastic wrapping. Instead, why not take your own items for your flight? The list is endless, but you can start with getting your own snack box (filled with your own snacks), coffee/drink cup, earphones, reusable water bottle, cloth napkins and reusable cutlery. In addition, although reusable water bottles are already very popular, at airports such as San Francisco Airport (SFO), single-use plastics including plastic water bottles were banned in August 2019, meaning thirsty travellers will need their own water bottle to be able to refill it.

Top tip: Check you are adhering to the airline rules by looking at the list of food you can take on the plane, and the guide to prohibited items.

cabin trolley

8. Pack a plastic-free toiletry kit

Similar to tip #7, you can also reduce your travel waste by using a plastic-free toiletry kit. Many of the travel-size toiletries, such as shampoo, are disposed of after one use, contributing to your single-use plastic waste. Getting a reusable wash bag which is TSA approved to fit in your hand-luggage is a great way of reducing plastic waste. Additionally, instead of the over-priced travel minis, invest in some reusable travel-sized bottles which you can decant your holiday liquids into. If you want to go the extra mile with eco-friendly toiletries, why not find some coral-friendly sunscreen, chewable toothpaste, bamboo toothbrush or some solid eco-friendly shampoo!

And, if you want to go one further, you could do a bit of research on which airlines are taking steps to become plastic-free on flights. We've put together a guide which highlights the airlines that have started or planning to become plastic-free in the near future.

9. Choose vegan or vegetarian in-flight meals

Plant-based diets have seen a huge increase in popularity over the previous few years, with vegan diets commonly being cited as the best way to reduce your environmental impact. So, when booking your meal on your flight, why not consider a vegan or vegetarian airline meal? We’ve put together a list of vegan meals available across many different airlines so that you can plan your flights accordingly. See the table and find out how to request a vegan meal, here.


vegan airline meal

Photo Credit: ve.y.oga on Instagram

10. Don’t print a boarding pass

Although this action alone won’t save the world from climate change, using your mobile to display your boarding pass instead of printing it is a small but very achievable step that people can take to reduce the environmental impact of flying. Many airlines will allow you to check-in online, and download your boarding ticket to your mobile to use as a mobile boarding pass. However, be sure to check that the airline and airport you are using will allow boarding passes on a mobile or other devices such as a smart watch.

At Alternative Airlines, you can add auto check-in to your flight on more than 100 airlines available to book on our site. Auto check-in automatically checks you in for the flight that you've purchased and sends your boarding pass to your inbox. If your boarding pass comes with a QR code, you can use this to board your flight on the day of travel. Completely paperless!

apple watch boaring pass

11. Lower window shades

When it comes to the day of flying, there are actions you can take to further reduce the impact of flying. If you can, lower the window shades to keep the plane cooler. This means that less energy is required to power the air conditioning system to cool the plane, in turn reducing the total energy required and greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. If every window shutter was closed on a plane, the temperature in the plane could be reduced by 10°C!

12. Buy carbon offset credits

Unfortunately, even with these great eco-friendly flying tips, flying is still not totally environmentally friendly. Purchasing credits from a carbon offsetting company is one way to compensate for your flying emissions ― whether you are a regular or occasional flyer. This works by passengers paying with money to offset their carbon emissions obtained. The money is then used to combat the CO2 in the atmosphere, normally through tree planting or reforestation. Although a short-term fix, carbon offsetting is a great way to aid the environment and help minimise the damage of flying, at least until new technologies are developed to reduce the impact of flying on the environment. Flyers can choose to independently offset their carbon credits by paying a small fee to offset their carbon footprint, but there are also companies like Climate Impact are working with organisations and companies to develop bespoke plans to offset their carbon emissions, meaning customers will have the option in the future to offset carbon as part of their flight purchase.

tree planting

Vaughan Lindsay, the CEO of ClimateCare, spoke to us about the importance of carbon offsetting for air travel: “Awareness of offsetting has increased with media coverage on the industry’s failure to either offset emissions or provide passengers with a way to do so. Stories like this came as a surprise to some consumers who simply believed that their airline was ‘doing it all for them’.”

He also added “Some airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand, provide their passengers with easy to use carbon offset calculators. For maximum effectiveness, these should be well signed and effectively promoted to passengers. It should also be made as simple as possible for passengers to offset, for example within the booking path and when checking-in online. Airlines will need to ensure that they are working with a reputable partner with a strong delivery track record.”

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