Is Flying First Class Bad For The Climate?

Flying first-class might be more comfortable, but it's far less climate friendly.

Let’s paint a picture. Imagine yourself on a first-class flight. Your seat is very comfortable. You’re looking across the aisle, and on the other side, there is another couple relaxing. Not a care in the world. A champagne bottle uncorks itself from its icebox, and the cabin crewman slides a glass of finest vintage down your way.

flying first class
Madison Inouye/ Pexels

You sip your wine and stare out of the window as you fly high through the clouds, thinking how beautiful the mother earth is to shade us with such a vast blue sky over our heads. But then you come across the thought of climate change and all the other harmful things we humans have been doing to our Mother Earth. So you start introspecting how your flying is impacting this climate change. Worst, how flying first-class harms the climate even more than flying in coach.

flying first class
竟傲 汤/ Pexels

Yes, you read that right. Flying first class harms the climate, and flying economy is comparatively environment-friendly. A study published by the World Bank states that the economy class is as environmental as it is financial. The study also found that flying first class has seven times more carbon footprint than economy fliers.

Jon Strand, a senior economist from Development Research Group, World Bank, writes in one of his blogs that “the ‘footprint’ of a passenger on a commercial flight depends more on the space taken up by the passenger in the aircraft, and less on how much the passenger (and her or his luggage) weighs.”

He further adds, “The space taken up by an average traveler is larger in premium travel classes than in economy class, in some cases much larger. Two factors are behind this. First, in premium classes, seat spacing is more dispersed. Secondly, load factors (the fraction of available seats that are actually occupied) are in most cases lower in premium classes than in economy class.”

The World Bank’s calculation shows that a passenger flying first class, on average, takes up 2.5-3 times more space in an aircraft as compared to an economy passenger. Not only do travelers flying first-class take up more space, but those first-class seats tend to remain unfilled than the economy seats. The calculation also found that the passenger’s weight makes up only 15-20% of an aircraft’s weight. So the more passengers an aircraft takes in, the fewer will be the personal carbon footprint of the passengers.

The more weight you put on a plane, the more fuel the plane needs to keep the aircraft flying. Hence, burning more fuel leads to releasing a large amount of carbon dioxide and other gases. But gladly, there are some ways you can travel guilt-free, or rather, with GoodGuilt.

How to fly consciously?

Now that we know that since flying first class leaves a heavy carbon footprint, the conscious way of flying is flying economy. Follow our Instagram post for five amazing tips to fly sustainably:

Airlines that fly sustainably

We believe in executing conscious decisions; one should have conscious options too. So, we did a little more research to find airlines that fly sustainably.

1. Etihad

etihad airplane, flying first class
Etihad/ Instagram

Etihad aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and half the emissions by 2035. Etihad is already working on various green initiatives to achieve its aim. For example, it collaborated with Boeing to develop and execute steps like employing a sustainable aviation fuel blend in its planes. Boeing engineers also used Etihad’s ‘green-themed’ Boeing 787 delivery aircraft to test new fuel efficiency techniques. In addition, this airline has partnered with multiple organizations to help reduce its carbon footprint.

2. Alaska Airlines

alaska airplane in the air for flying first class
AlaskaAir/ Instagram

Alaska Airlines is one of the most fuel-efficient airlines in the world. This sustainable airline reduces the number of carbon emissions using modern navigation technologies. This airline also lets passengers reduce their carbon footprint through their partnered organization, The Good Traveler. Alaska also has a climate goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

3. American Airlines

America flight
Stephan_Bowman624/ Instagram

American Airlines has invested significantly in fleet renewal, including 50 new fuel-efficient Airbus A321XLR planes. In addition, through its collaboration with Cool Effect, American Airlines offers its customers the option of carbon offsetting their journey. Their initiatives, such as paperless cockpits, single-engine taxiing, and fuel-saving winglets, are all helping make aviation more environmentally friendly.

4. JetBlue

jet blue
JetBlue/ Instagram

JetBlue is now working to reduce emissions by purchasing new jets that are 20% more fuel-efficient than the average airliner. JetBlue is also working to improve its current fleet of 170 Airbus A320-family aircraft, which will reduce CO2 emissions by almost 550,000 metric tonnes per year. It is their goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

5. Air Canada

air canada
AirCanada/ Instagram

Air Canada was the first airline in North America to provide biodegradable takeout containers and recycled paper for in-flight entertainment. It also provides a carbon offset program to its clients. In addition, Air Canada is spending $13 million over the next three years to refit its fleet of planes with the most up-to-date pollution monitoring technology, with a total investment of $150 million to decrease emissions as much as feasible.

In simpler words, we may not be able to alter one of the fundamental characteristics of air travel. However, we can still do our part to lessen its effects by choosing the most environmentally friendly means of travel. So, the next time you book a flight, ditch flying first class and consider commuting economy through sustainable airlines and travel sustainably.

Psst! Need some tips to travel sustainably? We’ve got you covered there too. Read our blog about sustainable tourism — the complete guide to traveling green!

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