Sustainable Travel 101: Flying Green(er)

sustainable travel, Sustainable Travel 101: Flying Green(er), The Travel Bug Bite

I realized that my environmental footprint was yeti-sized when I moved to China three years ago. This led me to changing my lifestyle for the better. I adopted a mostly plant-based diet and began reducing plastic. The only thing I wasn’t willing to change was the frequency of my travels. Instead, I decided to go a more sustainable travel route.

“At any given time there are 10,000 passenger aircraft in the sky carrying over a million people, 24 hours a day, every day.”

– The Irish Times

The Irish Times posted an article titled ‘aviation is the red meat in the greenhouse gas sandwich’. This ingeniously titled piece states that after eating red meat, the most detrimental human activity is flying. While it was easy for me, personally, to eliminate all meat from my diet, flying is a different story. If I could sail across the Atlantic Ocean like Greta Thunberg, I most definitely would. But I’d like to suggest some more practical tips for us regular folk.

One wise eco-crazed lady once heard me ranting about how my efforts to live a greener lifestyle meant nothing as long as I continued to fly. She gave me a stern lecture and pleaded me not to punish myself for wanting to see the world I am trying to save. I’d like to pass on her wise words and tips to anyone who wants to make a difference.

Not All Airlines Are Created Equal

Sorry Greta, but I can’t take a boat, bus or train. While these options are better than flying, hopping on a plane can’t always be avoided. This is where choosing the right airline and route can make a difference.

I’ll begin with route, because this doesn’t require extensive airline research. Paying a little extra to have a direct non-stop flight can be hard on the wallet. However, your body and the Earth will thank you. You can learn more about the impact of this on the Alternative Airlines website. The bottom line is that the fuel it takes to power each aircraft you board increases the harm to the environment.

Airlines are constantly competing with each other in terms of price, destinations, comfort and service. Environmental impact only recently became a factor to consider. You can find a comprehensive list here.

But how exactly are airlines managing to be more green?

What is Carbon Offset?

“A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Offsets are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent.”


Three days ago Easy Jet became the world’s first major carbon neutral airline. They are carbon offsetting all of their flights, but this is only a temporary solution. Easy Jet has been reducing emissions since 2000. They hope to further reduce emissions by 10% by 2022. This is great news, but it isn’t the only way to engage in sustainable travel.

Choose a Plant-Based In-Flight Meal

The meals served on planes used to be mocked for being disgusting and low-quality. Today, you can expect delicious options to accommodate any dietary need on the planet. To chose a plant-based meal, you still have to call the airline or select the option online. From my experience, I promise it is a quick and painless process.

You don’t have to be a hard-core vegan from birth to consider reducing your meat intake. Making small changes to your diet can have a significant impact. Earth Day claims that if over the course of a year you:

  • Ate one less burger a week, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for 320 miles.
  • Skip meat and cheese one day a week with your family, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for five weeks – or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes.
  • Skip steak once a week with your family, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for nearly three months.
  • And if the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

Scandinavian Airlines takes this a step further. Their meals are not only vegan but the ingredients come from local farms. This isn’t just good for the environment and your body – fresh food also happens to be the tastiest.

Trashy Flights are Not Classy

“Airline passengers alone generated 5.7 million tons of waste globally in 2016, most of which went to landfills or the incinerator, according to the International Air Transport Association, an industry trade group of some 290 airlines. By 2030, this number is expected to nearly double to an annual 10 million tons.”


Planes are not clean places to be no matter what. However, to some people, a blanket wrapped in plastic provides the illusion of cleanliness. From my experience, airlines in Asia are particularly obsessive about using as much plastic as possible. It is considered cleaner and more comfortable to accumulate a stack of empty plastic cups.

Many airlines are moving forward and limiting their use of plastic. American Airlines has banned plastic straws and stir sticks. Norwegian Air, with whom I flew from London to Boston last week, encouraged reusing the same plastic cup for water. In general I am seeing less flight attendants shocked when I present them with a reusable to-go cup.

Speaking of which, you can make travel a lot greener without relying on anyone else. All you need to do is have a zero-waste kit ready to go.

sustainable travel, Sustainable Travel 101: Flying Green(er), The Travel Bug Bite
Simple and cheap zero-waste kit for sustainable travel!


Travel is an amazing experience that no one should miss out on. You can be an active participant in sustainable travel by flying on direct non-stop flights and picking airlines that offset carbon, offer local plant-based meals and reduce single-use plastic. A great resource for learning more is the Alternative Airlines website.

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