Jetsetting’s Out, Offsetting’s In

As travel consciousness emerges, vacationers are learning a new lexicon, marked by carbon offsets, microcations, and flygskam

January 15, 2020

10:16 am

Last year, when it came to climate-friendly practices in running their airline, Jet Blue should have been grounded.

In a study released last September by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), Jet Blue was ranked dead last for fuel efficiency among domestic American commercial airlines (for the years 2017-2018).

In rankings based among comparable flights among the 11 airlines studied, Jet Blue — in 11th, and last, place — burned 26% more fuel than the number-one airline, Frontier. 

Now it seems that Jet Blue is taking dramatic steps forward to reverse its reputation as an inefficient and wasteful polluter. Last week, as the digital transportation website Electrek reported, the airline became the first to announce that it will be carbon neutral on all domestic flights. Jet Blue will achieve this by offsetting emissions from the jet fuel it consumes for all domestic flights starting in July of this year. (Offsetting is achieved by investing in environmental projects or initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.)

For those of you who aren’t sure how exactly planes negatively contribute to the climate emergency, the Points Guy explains: “Airplanes emit various particles and gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere.” And CO2 “makes up 65% of global greenhouse emissions…. When excess greenhouse gas exists in the atmosphere, heat becomes trapped and the planet warms.”

So, if that heat is warming the planet, does offsetting help? Some think so, but others are skeptical. The ICCT, for one, notes “that there is little evidence to date to believe CORSIA [an acronym for the aviation industry’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation] alone will bring about substantial in-sector decarbonization of the aviation industry.”

In addition to offsets, Jet Blue also upped the ante on its competitors by announcing that it will use sustainable aviation fuel on flights departing from San Francisco, also starting in mid-2020. The sustainable fuel it will purchase, reported EcoWatch, is made by Neste. Dubbed “MY Renewable Jet Fuel,” the fuel is “made 100 percent from waste and residue raw materials” and is “fully compatible with existing jet engine technology.”

“Air travel connects people and cultures, and supports a global economy, yet we must act to limit this critical industry’s contributions to climate change,” said Jet Blue CEO Robin Hayes in a statement. “We reduce where we can and offset where we can’t. By offsetting all of our domestic flying, we’re preparing our business for the lower-carbon economy that aviation — and all sectors — must plan for.”

Some are planning for less flying altogether, as a new travel consciousness seems to be emerging. There is a movement in Europe that started in Sweden known as “flygskam,” which is a Swedish word that the Washington Post reports is translated loosely as “flight shame.” Flight shaming, the Post notes, is gaining, er, ground, as enlightened travelers want to fly less, and even airlines, such as KLM, encourage their customers to consider flying less.

Which brings us to a solution for those who still want to use their vacation time to get out of town, but want to do so more responsibly. For those folks, we introduce yet another new word to the lexicon: “microcation,” meaning shorter vacation. As National Geographic reported in its top travel trends for 2020, ”experienced travelers [are] looking for ways to manage their impact on the world.”

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