Flying is a great thing. Flying is also pretty comfortable and unbeatably cheap. The problem? Flying is also the most polluting way to get around. The reason for this is the enormous fuel consumption of the airplanes: During a holiday flight to Mallorca, every passenger causes almost as much climate damage as a year by car – even though today’s airplanes use less fuel than ten years ago. A flight to Tenerife will cause even twice as much impact on the climate per passenger as over a year by car. But what exactly is so environmentally harmful about getting on a plane?

Air travel as environmental pollution

In everyday life, we value environmental protection, try to avoid plastic waste and buy organic products. On the other hand, the number of air travelers continues to grow – in 2017 there was an increase of seven percent – to 4.1 billion. With increasing growth rates, air traffic is becoming more and more a problem for the environment. In an article of the German daily newspaper, called Süddeutsche Zeitung, flying was described as the biggest ecological crime that a single person can do.

We try to live without plastic bags, buy organic vegetables – and then book the long-distance flight to Thailand again: If we want to protect the climate, we have to start traveling wisely..

Süddeutsche Zeitung

However, the enormous environmental impact is not just caused by the emission of CO2. When kerosene is burned, harmful exhaust gases are developed, which consist predominantly of water vapor, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These substances are three times more active in the air than on the ground, which results in an increase in the greenhouse effect:

  • Under the sun’s rays, nitrogen oxides build up the so-called ozone, which acts as a powerful greenhouse gas in the air.
  • The cirrus clouds resulting from the contrails and aerosols (e.g., soot) additionally heat the atmosphere.

  • The sum of the effects ultimately causes greenhouse damage two to five times higher than the damage caused by the sole effect of the emitted CO2.


Smart travel by bus and train

In the sections before, we showed that flying is not healthy for the environment. And with that, we have already taken a first (simple) step in the right direction: to create awareness. How many people really know what is harmful about flying? But awareness alone is not enough to improve the situation. We have to act – even if we can only take small steps at first. The second (also relatively simple) step: avoid short-distance and feeder flights and change to bus or train services instead. Especially for business people, who often travel across the country,traveling by train may be a bit more time consuming  in the long run, but is much more environmentally friendly. Compared to a flight, only one third of the energy is needed when traveling by bus or train. Within Germany, therefore, we are now completely relinquishing air travel. Short trips abroad – e.g. for trade fair visits – can not be avoided for us. Nevertheless, we try to reduce such trips or, if possible, schedule a longer stay on site and explore the city after the event. Even in our private lives we can not (and do not want to) do without flying completely, because we love traveling too much. However, we are increasingly paying attention to the fact that we only take flights if we spend a relatively long time (two to three weeks) in the respective country and then make a compensation payment for each flight via Atmosfair.

Not coming to zero does not mean doing nothing for it.

What we want you to take home after reading the article: Nobody is perfect and it is not our aim to persuade other people to be more aware of the environment. Also we can not completely do without the aircraft as a mode of transport, because we like traveling to other countries way to much. But we try to make our contribution to environmental protection in small steps – and that’s exactly what matters.

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