As the holidays approach, a lot of people start to plan their travels to see family and friends. Booking data for the holiday travel season suggest it could be busier than the last pre-pandemic year. Thanksgiving reservation volume is up by 302% compared with 2020 and 93% higher compared with 2019 volume, according to Guesty, a vacation rental platform. And Christmas reservation volume across the U.S. is up 469% compared with 2020, and is currently 157% higher than 2019 volume. For Christmas 2021, 93% of reservations across the United States have been made by domestic travelers.
As people become more and more eco-conscious about their travel, the question about how to travel is getting more attention. The flight shaming movement that rose in the past two years, states that there is nothing more polluting than the air travel. But is this actually true? That depends.
Passenger jets are in fact significantly more efficient than automobiles, if you measure on a passenger-mile basis. And, if you’re worried about your personal carbon footprint, getting on a plane from New York to Los Angeles may actually put less carbon into the air than driving to work tomorrow. While it is true that planes are bigger, use more fuel, and emit a lot of air pollutants, they carry many more passengers than a car does. In fact, one person driving a gas-powered car equates to an airplane flying 80 percent full of passengers. The difference is, there are 80 cars worth traveling on one big plane versus 80 cars kicking out exhaust particles into the air.
A Boeing 747 uses 7,840kg of aviation fuel for the take-off, climb and descent portions of the flight and these account for about 250km. For journeys longer than that, the plane will use 10.1kg for each additional kilometre under typical cruising conditions. So to fly from Heathrow to Edinburgh (530km) the average aircraft uses 10,668kg of fuel, which releases a little over 33 tonnes of CO2. Whereas a Ford Mondeo 1.8 TDCi emits 151g of CO2 per km and covers 650km to reach Edinburgh. That works out to be 98kg for a single passenger, compared to 79kg per person for the Jumbo, assuming it carries its full complement of 416 passengers. But you could drive 336 cars to Edinburgh for the same CO2 as one plane.
If you want to match the efficiency of air travel on the ground, you’ll need to drive a car that gets about 33 miles per gallon — assuming you’re taking the statistically prescribed additional 0.4 person along for the ride.