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8 Eco-Friendly Airlines: Reducing Carbon Emissions & Choosing Sustainability [2024]

In most countries of the world, including the US, sustainability reports are no longer a courtesy to the public but a legal responsibility.

This is good news for all eco enthusiasts out there — especially considering that more airlines will now have to make their carbon imprint stats public.

But then again — some airlines have already been investing in green initiatives while others are still trying to sweep their carbon trash under the carpet. 

So, when booking the next plane ticket, it makes more sense to support an airline that cares about the environment — or, at least, has made some effort to minimize its damage before all others were forced to do so.

And here are the top flight providers that have been monitoring their carbon footprint before it became mainstream. 

8 Eco-Friendly Airlines for More Sustainable Flights

1. United Airlines

In 2018, United Airlines became one of the first flight operators to announce its plans for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. And just one year later, in 2019, the company launched what used to be the most sustainable flight at the time, dubbing it the Flight for the Planet.

The initiative became a breakthrough in commercial aviation, earning United Airlines the title of the first airline to power its vessel with carbon-neutral biofuel. Compared to a standard flight, Flight for the Planet saved up to 40 tons of carbon emissions and reduced fuel consumption by 3.3%.

United Airlines Logo

United Airlines does not intend to stop there, though — its plans for carbon reduction by 2050 still stand, and the airline is making steady steps in this direction by supporting electric aircraft startups like Heart Aerospace and purchasing more sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

By 2029, the company also intends to offer supersonic flights fueled exclusively by SAFs. So, it looks like United Airlines may become fully sustainable before its announced 2050 deadline. 

2. Virgin Atlantic 

Virgin Atlantic is another pioneer in using sustainable fuel and is steadily on its way to achieving a zero carbon footprint by 2050. A UK-based enterprise has been a leader in sustainability reports for years and is also the first UK company to build a SAF plant along with its partner, LanzaTech.

Today, Virgin Galactic powers its planes with eco-friendly fuel produced from recyclable waste and has the most modern fleet of vehicles not longer than seven years old. As of November 2023, the company won a UK permit for using 100% sustainable fuel in transatlantic flights, too.

Virgin Atlantic Airlines Logo

Besides, Virgin Atlantic invests in cutting-edge engine technology, equipping its aircraft with the most advanced sustainable engines to minimize carbon imprint and fuel consumption.

It replaces old engines on its Boeing planes with new eco-friendly ones more often than any other airline worldwide, so there is very little doubt that Virgin Galactic will reach its zero-emission goals before the announced deadline.

Finally, this company uses 25% recyclable materials in staff uniforms and 100% renewable energy in its office buildings, which makes them one of the more dedicated eco-friendly airlines.

3. Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is another eco-friendly airline that started with sustainable initiatives back in 2018. Its first addition to increased sustainability was a bit out-of-the-box, though, and had to do with the board menu rather than carbon emission control.

The idea, dubbed Omnipork, served plant-based pork aboard its aircraft. In a way, this made perfect sense since the company, and most Cathay Pacific employees are Hong Kong-based — a region where a vegetarian diet is very widespread.

Cathay Pacific Airlines Logo

However, Cathay Pacific invests in carbon reduction initiatives as well. By 2030, the company pledges to use a minimum of 10% SAF fuel to power its flights. By 2050, Cathay Pacific aims for zero carbon emissions, too. In fact, this airline has been investing in Fulcrum BioEnergy, a sustainable fuel made of landfill waste, since 2014, and as of 2022, it has become the leading Asian airline in terms of SAF usage.

It regularly donates unclaimed food to charity to combat food waste and barely uses any single-use plastic containers aboard its flights. 

4. KLM

Netherland flag carrier KLM is one of the top investors in flight sustainability. As of 2022, the airline has already mixed in some SAF fuel during its flights, and it has been developing these biofuels since 2009. During this time, KLM has already conducted several flights powered strictly with SAFs, and soon, the airline expects to increase the number of carbon-free flights.

However, KLM does not bet on SAF alone to minimize carbon pollution. The company also explores some alternative aircraft designs, such as electric and hydrogen-powered vessels. In fact, KLM plans to fully replace its fleet with clean aircraft by 2035 and, traditionally, reach zero emissions goals by 2050.

KLM Airlines Logo

But KLM already does more than develop clean fuels and aircraft. The company encourages passengers to pay extra so that all the additional funds accumulated through the charity program would go to the reforestation efforts in Panama.

Not all KLM extra charges are voluntary, though. For example, prices to support the use of SAF vary depending on flight duration and passenger class — another reason the airline is determined to switch to eco-friendly vessels powered by electricity or hydrogen. 

5. Air Canada 

Air Canada is another one of the eco-friendly airlines that actively renovates its fleet to ensure lower fuel consumption. Its new vessels, Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A220, already consume 20% less fuel per seat and achieve a 50% decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions compared to the airline’s previous generation of aircraft.

Air Canada Logo

The company invests in SAF and low-carbon aviation fuel (LCAF) development, planning to reach zero emissions goals by 2050.

In the meantime, Air Canada is heavily invested in charity and improving flight sustainability.

It has already removed all single-use plastic items from its flight equipment and, since 2017, has been donating all unused amenity kits to charity. During the years, that amounted to over 20,000 mattress pads and duvets. 

6. Etihad Airlines

UAE, particularly one of its chief airlines, Etihad, is also taking big strides in the direction of sustainability. In October 2021, it carried out its first sustainable flight that saw a 72% carbon emission reduction.

The result was achieved mostly by using SAF and optimizing flight routing. Etihad plans to continue these initiatives in its future flights and has already dubbed the modified aircraft Greenliner (and painted it green, too).

In this video by Just Planes, you can see how Greenliner takes off from London Heathrow:

Besides, Etihad insistently uses chiefly sustainable products onboard, minimizes the use of single-use plastic, and encourages its passengers to make sustainable flight choices. This includes the carbon offset option, where passengers can donate some money to green charity initiatives and rewards for customers who carry less baggage (and so minimize fuel consumption). 

7. Delta Airlines

Delta may not be the first airline to jump the sustainability train, but it has made significant progress lately. Like most others on this list, this Atlanta-based airline is dedicated to providing carbon-free flights by 2050 and pledges to use at least 10% of SAF fuel in all of its flights by 2030.

Delta Airline Logo

Besides, it is already exploring hydrogen-powered aircraft options and is actively replacing its fleet with fuel-efficient models, such as the Airbus A350. Between 2019 and 2022, the airline has removed 69 outdated aircraft models with modern versions that consume 25% less fuel.

Besides, Delta is already providing sustainably produced flight kits (including fully recyclable plastic) and donates food, blankets, and amenities to charity. According to the airline’s official report, it has already donated over a million kg of various materials to charitable foundations. 

8. Widerøe

You may never have come across this regional Norway airline offering local and neighboring flights to other Scandinavian countries, as well as the UK and Germany. Still, despite its modest coverage, Widerøe is one of the most eco-friendly airlines on this list.

Widerøe Airline Logo

By 2026, it should already provide zero-emissions flights, and by 2035, the latest, it should fully replace its 200-aircraft fleet with clean vessels powered by hydrogen and electricity. So, if you’re planning to travel around Norway or other Scandinavian countries, Widerøe is the obvious choice. 

Wrapping Up on Eco-Friendly Airlines

It’s true that some of these eco-friendly airlines, despite their highly sustainable practices, aren’t exactly pocket-friendly — certainly not on short notice (but then again, which airline is?). Besides, let’s be honest — there are other more eco-friendly ways to travel if there are any land routes available. But sometimes, one just has to fly — and it’s certainly better if you fly sustainable or as sustainable as it gets. We still only have one planet, after all.

Frequently Asked Questions

What airlines offer 100% green flights?

Right now, only United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic can offer flights fully powered by eco-fuel. United Airlines was the first company to introduce its Flight for the Planet in 2019 (more in the United Airlines section above). Virgin Atlantic has been officially licensed to carry SAF-powered transatlantic flights in November 2023. Read the full guide to learn more about flying sustainably.

What does carbon offset mean?

A carbon offset is an airline initiative allowing travelers to donate some money to charity to ‘offset’ their flights and minimize environmental damage resulting from their trips. Today, a lot of airlines offer this option, including Etihad (see above) and KLM. Customers can donate as much as they want, depending on which charity organizations the airline works with. KLM, for example, re-donates all customer donations to the reforestation of Panama. Read the full guide to learn more about airlines using carbon offsets.

Are there any electric planes?

Yes, and more are about to come. Widerøe (see above), a local Scandinavian airline, should already start using electric airplanes in 2026, along with hydrogen aircraft. United Airlines is also working with startups, namely Heart Aerospace, that produce electric aircraft. But it’s not yet clear when this airline will launch its first electric flight. Read the full guide to learn more about eco-friendly airplanes.

References

Statista: Projected CO2 Emissions from the Aviation Industry 2022 – 2050

The Guardian: Will Flying Ever Be Green?

McKinsey & Company: The Future of Sustainable Air Travel

National Geographic: Greener Air Travel Will Depend on These Emerging Technologies

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