In the past week countless airlines have dropped their domestic mask mandates, including JetBlue, Delta, and American Airlines. Now, passengers can choose whether or not to wear a mask for the duration of their flight. These announcements swept the nation, as it signals a decline in the nation’s response to COVID-19. With the summer around the corner, many college students plan on traveling both for pleasure and for work.
“While this mask mandate did not impact what I want to do this summer, I definitely am happy that people are now able to choose whether or not to wear a mask on flights,” said a student with whom I talked about the elimination of airline mask mandates. He is planning on working as an au pair in France over the summer and is very excited to see the world open up once again.
With restrictions beginning to loosen, a normal traveling environment is returning, which will result in an increase in tourism around the world. However, it is important that we do not revert to unsustainable travel habits, particularly when it comes to the environmental ramifications of flying.
In the past years, many airlines have adopted carbon offsetting initiatives, available for passengers to choose. When I asked the student if he intended on carbon offsetting his flights, he responded saying that it was not something he had considered. In fact, he continued to say that he typically chose airlines based on personal preferences of time and amenities instead of sustainability-related reasons.
The good news is that airlines are committed to making their industry more sustainable and attractive for passengers, especially since COVID-19 has negatively impacted their revenue. Things like carbon offsetting are now easier than ever to select. For instance, British Airways partners with Pure LeapFrog in carbon offsetting efforts. Users have to go to Pure LeafProg and enter their flight details to carbon offset, however the airlines says it will include this during checkout in the future. (Business Insider)
British Airways carbon offsets their flights by utilizing a mix of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and by funding projects that support emissions mitigation. British Airways has to use both because SAF is still scarce to obtain and cannot be used for entire flights. Therefore, they fund projects promoting environmental endeavors, like replacing inefficient and toxic stoves with new and cleaner ones in Nigeria. (Business Insider)
Airlines are also exploring other avenues to make their industry more environmentally friendly. Delta announced their plans to reach net zero by 2050 and to start implementing SAF fuel as a replacement for jet fuel. Delta’s climate initiative extends beyond creating and implementing sustainable fuel towards aspects like zero waste on board flights. They hope to achieve this by purchasing sustainable goods and donating leftover things like blankets and food to charities. On top of this, Delta flights are automatically carbon offsetted from a company-wide program from 2020. (CNN)
While these announcements are exciting to learn about, it is important to continue to investigate their environmental implications and question whether they are actually helping make flying more sustainable. Airline providers have been accused of greenwashing. For instance, carbon offsetting has been criticized for failing to help cut down on global emissions in a timely manner, with some of the projects used in carbon offsetting programs taking years to come to fruition.
Although the lifting of the mask mandate may make traveling easier for some, airplanes remain a source of concern from an environmental standpoint. While airlines have chosen to address climate change to some degree, it is important to remember flying releases incredible amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Henceforth, it is also important to explore the ways in which we can reduce our impact on the environment while flying, especially as it becomes easier and easier to do so.
~ Adrian Visscher `24