Eco-Consciousness - Airline Travel Industry Research

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Eco-Consciousness'Effect on Airline Travel

About a quarter of Americans have already reduced the number of flights they take and an additional 27% are considering reducing their flights. Bus is a popular alternative to airplane travel, but 75% of Americans would choose to fly in an electric plane if one were available. Additionally, carbon offsets are becoming more popular, as is the no-fly movement. Still, Americans place a low priority on the environmental responsibility of airlines when choosing which airline to fly.

Effect of the Rise of Eco-consciousness on Americans' Air Travel Time

Reducing the Number of Flights

  • About 25% of Americans have already reduced the number of flights they took over the past year because of "heightened environmental awareness."
  • In addition, another 27% are considering reducing the number of flights they will take in the future.
  • A National Geographic survey found that 42% of Americans would be "willing to prioritize sustainable travel in the future."
  • Many Americans are choosing to attend meetings remotely rather than fly to reduce their carbon footprint. For example, Kim Cobb, a coral reef researcher and professor, has reduced her number of flights by 75% since remotely attending conferences rather than flying to them.
  • While 59% of U.S. millennials and gen Zers say it is important to choose travel businesses that "prioritize environmentally sustainable business practices," only 50% are willing to pay more to such a company.

Alternative Travel Methods

Offsetting Carbon Footprint

  • Using tools like SustainIslandHome and Atmosfair, Americans are measuring their carbon footprint when they fly and are choosing to either drive instead or offset their footprint by purchasing carbon offsets, which allow them to reduce CO2 emissions in another area.
  • In a survey conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund, when given a choice between a flight with a $14 fee to offset their carbon footprint and a flight without that fee, consumers chose the fee-carrying flight 72% of the time.
  • Those passengers who did not know the $14 fee was to offset their carbon footprint chose the flight without the fee 76% of the time; however, when told what the fee was for, they changed their choice.
  • Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Alaska Horizon, United Express, and Delta Connection all offer carbon offset programs.

No-Fly Movement

  • There is a no-fly movement among academics and about 200 academics (mostly climate scientists) have pledged to fly less to conferences, lectures, and workshops.
  • One such scientist, Nadir Jeevanjee, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, will be taking an all-day train to a conference rather than flying because of his commitment to the no-fly movement.
  • Although not a formal movement, many ordinary American citizens are choosing not to fly as well. For instance, Thom Hawkins, who lives in California, has missed four Thanksgiving holidays and numerous weddings, birthdays, and graduations because he stopped flying in 2016 due to environmental concerns.

Eco-consciousness' Effect on Customers' Choice in Airlines

Environmental Concerns are Not High Priority

  • On a list of eight factors that affect business travelers' choice of airline, "environmental responsibility" came in last on the list.
  • Business travelers prioritized the airline's frequent flier program first, flight schedules second, affordability third, airline seat comfort fourth, quality of in- flight amenities fifth, reliability of on-time departure and arrival sixth, and customer service seventh.
  • On a list of eight factors that affect personal travelers' choice of airline, "environmental responsibility" also came in last on the list.
  • Personal fliers prioritized affordability first, flight schedule second, reliability of on-time departure and arrival third, airline seat comfort fourth, customer service fifth, the airline's frequent flier program sixth, and quality of in-flight amenities seventh.
  • Only 5% of all business travelers and 2% of those who travel six or more times for business in the past year ranked environmental responsibility as their first priority. This was an overall decrease of 2% from the prior year.
  • Only 3% of all personal travelers and 4% of those who took at least one leisure trip in the past year ranked environmental responsibility as their first priority. This was also an overall decrease of 2% from the prior year.

Most Environmentally Friendly Airlines in the U.S.

  • Alaska Airlines is the most environmentally friendly airline in the U.S., but it comes in 22nd on the global list.
  • Delta Airlines comes in second in the U.S. for eco-friendliness, but 45th overall.
  • United Airlines is third on the list in the U.S., but 50th on the global list.
  • Hawaiian Airlines is fourth in the U.S. and 57th overall.
  • American Airlines follows close behind in fifth place for the U.S. and 58th on the global list.
  • Alaska Horizon is sixth in the U.S. and 90th globally.
  • United Express is seventh in the U.S. and 119th on the global list.
  • Delta Connection is eighth in the U.S. and 121st globally.
  • No other U.S. airlines made it onto the list of top 125 most environmentally friendly airlines.

Research Strategy

The insights into the effect of the rise of eco-consciousness on Americans' air travel time were straightforward and taken from industry publications and media articles. However, we were only able to uncover one insight into how eco-consciousness affects consumers' choice in airlines. First, we looked for official surveys on how Americans choose their Airline to fly. The Air Travelers in America survey was readily available and provided us with the insight that neither business travelers nor leisure travelers place a high priority on the environmental stances of airlines when choosing which airline to fly. The survey offered no additional insights on this aspect of airline choice.

Having found no other surveys on the topic of how Americans choose their airline, our strategy shifted to industry publications from sources such as Skift,, and, among others. Although we continued to build on the insights on whether Americans were choosing different types of travel or if they are reducing the number of flights, we found no indication that their airline preferences are based on their eco-consciousness. Finally, we searched through government statistics and media articles to see if any formal statistics had been collected on how Americans choose their airlines. We found a database of quarterly airline performance and customer satisfaction reports, but these were mostly concerned with delayed departures and arrivals, lost baggage, and cabin comfort. There was no data regarding the airlines' environmental decisions or their impact on customer choice.

Due to the low priority placed on environmental responsibility by both business and leisure travelers, we assume the lack of information about how eco-consciousness impacts consumers' choice in airlines is the result of Americans not caring as much about flight's environmental impact as they do other factors. As such, it is likely that currently, customers do not choose airlines based on their eco-consciousness yet. However, we did come across the list of most eco-friendly U.S. airlines that we included as helpful findings.
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Eco-consciousnesses: Trends

Some examples of industry-related trends that are driving eco-consciousness in the airline industry include the rising fuel prices, strict carbon emissions regulations, and exponential growth of the aviation technology.

Trend #1: Rising Jet Fuel Prices

Companies behind this trend:

Trend #2: Strict Carbon Emissions Regulations

Example of companies leading this trend:
  • In order to reduce carbon emissions, Delta Airlines invested in $2.5 million in carbon offset projects in 2017. On the 2019’s Earth Day, the company announced that it will continue to buy 50,000 carbon offsets in order to reduce its overall emissions.
  • In 2018, United Airlines announced that it will reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2050. In June 2019, the airline launched its first ‘flight for the planet,’ a carbon-neutral flight that eliminates all cabin wastes and uses sustainable biofuel. With the new flight, the company is able to offset up to 40 tonnes of CO2 and reduce overall fuel consumption by 3.3%.

Trend #3: Exponential Growth In Aviation Technology

Companies leading the trend

Research Strategy

To determine examples of industry-related trends that are driving eco-consciousness in the airline industry, our research team browsed through numerous marketing reports, press publications, expert blogs, and news articles related to the inquiry to gather any insight about the current trends. We also reviewed aviation industry experts' opinions regarding the trends in the market. Our research team specifically curated these trends based on the latest and most mentioned information found in different sources, including the European Aviation Environmental Report, US News, Ecosystem Marketplace, and National Geographic. To locate examples of companies driving these trends, we located reports outlining the top airline players in the global market, from which we searched through their blogs and industry reports to understand how they are driving the trends.

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Consumer-focused Eco-consciousness: Trends

Ecoconscious consumers have called for a decrease in the carbon footprint and environmental impact of airlines. Airlines have responded by using alternative fuels like recycled fuels, biofuels, and carbon offsets. Airlines have also undertaken initiatives to produce zero onboard waste and offering plant-based meal alternatives to offset carbon emissions. Information regarding these trends and examples of airlines at the forefront are provided below.

Alternative Fuel

Overview (and what consumers think)

  • Ecoconscious consumers believe flying is a luxury that affluent people enjoy, but the effects of the resulting carbon emissions will be the most devastating to poor people that will likely never fly on a plane. Airlines are increasingly using alternative fuels such as recycled fuels, sustainable biofuels, and carbon offsets to reduce the carbon emissions of airplanes.
  • Some eco-conscious consumers and environmental scientists forecast a growth in airline travel that will cause the carbon footprint to increase from 2% to anywhere from 300% to 700% between 2020 and 2050. Airlines such as United and Air France show commitment to customers with innovations and improvements to reduce carbon emissions, and biofuels are the most effective way airlines can reduce their environmental impact.
  • A study shows that consumers are willing to pay more for carbon offsets to reduce the carbon emissions of flights and will choose the higher price flight if they know the reason for the higher cost, and consumers want "airlines to take responsibility for flight emissions".

Impact On The Industry


Zero Onboard Waste


Impact On The Industry


  • Air France committed to eliminate single-use plastics from in-flight service and is committed to producing zero cabin waste.
  • United Airlines is dedicated to producing zero cabin waste and the historic "Flight for the Planet" is one example of this initiative.

Environmentally Friendly Meals


  • Some ecoconscious consumers advocate for meat free diets to decrease the amount contributing to the estimated 2% of global carbon emissions, and it is stated that an increasing number of airlines are offering more environmentally-friendly vegan and vegetarian meal options as a result of "changing consumer demand".
  • In response to the meatless revolution, airlines are one of the industries that are starting to include more vegan and vegetarian options on the menus. Organizations such as The Vegan Society and Humane Society International and FlyVe have campaigned for the airlines to offer plant-based options as a way to offset some environmental impact of flying.

Impact On The Industry