British Tourist

What is the greenest airline flying in the UK?

It’s no hidden truth that flying is one of the most environmentally damaging ways to travel the world… but sometimes it’s necessary and the only option. When you look at how efficient or damaging a plane is, it all comes down to the airline and factors that affect the journey, such as if the plane is full or mostly empty, so it’s hard to just categorise it as a yes it’s bad or no it’s not. While flight may not be the most environmentally friendly industry out there, many airlines are working hard to introduce new routines, schemes and methods to reduce their carbon footprint, something we (as travellers) should all get very much behind. To help narrow this down, we’ve compiled a list of our favourites and their efforts.

British Airways

British Airways is one of the most forward thinking green airlines that the UK has to offer at the moment. Through various initiatives and efforts, BA have pledged to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a bold statement to be made by any business as it will naturally reduce profitability. Now, in our opinion, 2050 is no way near early enough for the impact to be reduced given the damage already caused, but the thought is there and the effort is being made, so you can’t really fault them for that.

But what are they doing? In a fantastic turning point for commercial airlines, BA are taking it upon themselves to carbon offset their flights as of January 2020. If you’ve read our Green Travel articles, you’ll know that carbon offsetting is where you (as a customer or passenger) or the brand (in this case BA) can pay to invest a certain amount of money back into global efforts for conservation and the reduction of climate change impact. This is worked out based on individual CO2 emissions, journey length and aircraft efficiency; but even a small amount will go a long way to protecting our planet.

However, it’s all well and good to give back to the planet, but the harsh fact is that the damage is already done by that point, so it needs to be eradicated or reduced all together. British Airways were the first European airline to invest and build a plant focused on purely creating sustainable aviation fuel, resulting in over an over 70% reduction of CO2 emissions on flights where this fuel is used compared to standard jet fuel. Combining this with the actual reduction of fuel use on their aircraft (with various initiatives to lower engine use, improving engine efficiency, optimising flight routes and weight reduction), this is resulting in BA quickly becoming one of the greenest names in the skies at the moment. We hope to see this amazing work continue.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic have very much been an exemplary subject in green aviation for the future, with various initiatives that are helping them to be a strong contender for greenest airline. The airline as a whole has pledged to reduce their CO2 emissions by 30% THIS YEAR, which is a huge step up on British Airway’s 2050 timeframe. The downside to this is that it is only a 30% reduction, but that’s still a huge amount of potential CO2 being stopped from going into our atmosphere.

While it is becoming an industry standard for the removal of old aircraft to replace them with newer, more efficient models, Virgin Atlantic have done this very quickly, with new planes coming in all the time to help improve the efficiency and carbon footprint of their routes. On a similar note, the fuel efficiency of these aircrafts are being aided by Virgin’s efforts in sustainable fuel, becoming the first airline to make a full flight with LanzaTech’s innovative sustainable aviation fuel. The airline has even had scholar approaches to efficient flying taught to their pilots to help improve every step of the way.

Virgin Atlantic are also going one step further in their offices and on the ground, improving the efficiency of everything they do at every level of the business. They’re taking this very seriously all the way down to company cars and heating in their buildings, so you know that they are putting in a great effort every day to reduce their impact – and we appreciate that.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines aren’t a UK airline by any means, but they often operate out of our large international airports with travel to North America (often aided by Virgin Atlantic, Air France or KLM). The reason we’ve included this airline on our list is because they’re one of the greenest airlines in the world and their initiatives should definitely go noticed. The airline is making constant investments to reducing their carbon footprint and increase efficiency, pledging $1 billion alone in March 2020 to mitigate all emissions in 10 years. Again, this pledge is a much shorter timescale than the likes of BA, which we love.

Similarly, the airline have pledged further investment this year into innovation and initiatives that help improve the efficiency of everything they do. The company have, in the past, carbon offset in a way that no other airlines did at the time, but others are now starting to catch up. Delta are also one of the first airlines to strive to remove all single-use plastics from their flights, which would result in over 300,000 tonnes of plastic waste reduced.

It may not seem that Delta Airlines are doing much more than the other airlines we’ve mentioned so far, but the main difference is that Delta did a lot of it first or quicker. They also hold the largest fleet of any commercial aircraft in the world, so when they make a change, it has a huge impact. Let’s hope this rubs off on all the European and British airlines.

Ryanair

In what may be a shock on this list because of the cost of a flight with Ryanair, the airline is very forward in their green initiatives and self-claim that they are Europe’s greenest, cleanest airline. Whether this is true or not we’re not sure, but with pledges and dedications like becoming completely plastic free by 2023, we’re all on board for them to get this title quickly. Where money is saved, usually corners are cut, and in some ways this is the case with some of Ryanair’s initiatives as they fall more on the passenger than the airline itself, but effort is still definitely being made to improve the efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint.

Ryanair offer all customers the opportunity to carbon offset their journeys with them, so it’s completely optional but will increase your fare if you choose to opt in. If you’re like us, you’ll happily make a difference and play your part, but we also understand that budgets are out there and not everyone can afford to do it – so there’s room for improvement here. But when it comes to improving their fleet efficiency as a whole, Ryanair are doing just as much as the larger airlines are, investing in new aircraft and enforcing more efficient flying, taxiing and in-flight services on all their flights moving forward. 

While the airline may be the number one for carbon efficiency in Europe (which is huge) there is still room to grow… but that’s the case with all airlines. For a low-cost airline, Ryanair truly soar above the others in terms of flying green for a low cost.

There are thousands of aircraft flying into and out of the UK on a daily basis, so there’s no way we could include all of the green airlines in the world on our list, but the four listed above are truly going above and beyond to make a difference. When it comes down to the best one? It’s hard to say. They all have room to grow and improvements to be made, but as with all businesses, profitability comes first. The airline industry has taken a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see green initiatives and efforts slow a little while the companies take precautions to secure their future – but we’re intrigued to see how the industry adapts to the future and helps to protect our planet.