Conscious Flight Booking?!?! - Dr Charlotte Braungardt


| Back to News-blog

Conscious Flight Booking?!?! - Dr Charlotte Braungardt

Sometimes my job involves flying to distant places and for my recent trip to Panama for the sail training charity Seas Your Future, I sought to find out about the fuel consumption and carbon footprint for different routes. I found interesting results worthy of consideration.

There are no direct flights from UK to Panama and the cheapest options from London route via European cities, Canada and the USA. When booking the flights, I wondered how much these apparent geographical detours would add to the distance, carbon footprint, and hence the climate impact, of my flights.

In planning the least carbon-intense route to take, the ICAO Carbon Emissions Calculator appears to be the most realistic, as it takes into account real data on the type of aircraft used and a factor that accounts for average occupied seats and freight loadings on a given route to calculate the amount of fuel burned per passenger1.

The table provides data on the top seven cheapest economy routes for return flights from London (Gatwick or Heathrow) to Panama City Tocumen airports, as suggested by common flight search engines.

Route via Distance (km) Fuel (t) CO2 pp (t) Fuel/Distance (kg/km) Best for:
MAD 18730 12.08 1.13 0.64
AMS 18350 15.33 1.09 0.84 CO2
CDG 18002 15.14 1.21 0.84 distance
YYZ 19098 12.30 1.14 0.64
IAH 21224 14.74 1.28 0.69
EWR 18220 10.91 1.19 0.60 fuel
AMS: Amsterdam, MAD: Madrid-Adolfo Suarez-Barajas, CDG: Paris Charles De Gaulle, YYZ: Toronto Lester B Pearson, IAH: Houston George Bush Intercontinental, EWR: New York Newark Liberty. Fuel burn per journey and carbon dioxide per passenger in metric tonnes (t).

The data provided me with geographic surprise: while the route via Paris has the shortest distance, flying via New York is comparable in distance to other routes through Europe. The only real outlier in terms of distance is the flight via Houston.

Routing through New York is best in terms of fuel economy, including fuel used per unit distance. However, the smallest carbon footprint per passenger was calculated for the flight via Amsterdam, even though it is has the highest overall fuel consumption. This is where passenger numbers and freight loading come into the equation: well occupied flights ‘share’ carbon footprints between more individuals and pay load, and hence have lower impact. This is also true for economy seats: the footprint of a business or first class seats are higher by the factors of their additional space occupation in the aircraft.

On the basis of this analysis, I was inclined to go via Amsterdam (CO2), Madrid (balance of CO2 and fuel) or Newark (fuel). The Seas Your Future ‘office’ booked via Newark on the basis of availability and price this time, but this analysis will become part of a wider sustainability consideration for crew change in the future.

1Other considerations, such as radiative forcing and the conversion of other climate-active compounds in the emissions to a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) are not included at this point, as they can be accounted for by applying a simple factor to the CO2 emissions calculated by ICAO (see my post ‘The (Hidden) Cost of Travel‘ for more detail, and how I compensate for my flight footprint for business travel).

Seas Your Future is the operating name of Adventure Under Sail,
Charity 1124276, VAT 174919961.

For more information contact: 
T: +44 (0) 1305 839835