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
- About 75% of respondents to a UBS survey stated they would be "happy to fly in an electric or hybrid plane," but only 25% said they would want to take a smaller self-piloted plane.
- Millennials and gen Zers have "embraced Greyhound" and buses are becoming more popular with the U.S. population overall.
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.
- 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.
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, Airlines.org, and Departures.com, 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.