an airplane wing in the sky

Even though aviation only contributes between 2-3% of global emissions, it’s currently in the hot seat as a key industry requiring rapid transformation.

Of course, going “green” is good and airlines are now fully on board because it’s also profitable. Getting jets that burn less fuel and creating ways to waste less food on each journey means wasting less money, too.

Awareness around carbon emissions is major right now, and Google Flights is now a part of that. Like it or not, it’s getting harder to be ignorant on the subject, with figures flashed on all flight bookings. Spoiler alert: mileage runs are not emissions friendly.

On the new Google Flights layout, all itineraries display a very simple and generally accurate look at how much emission you’ll be creating, based on the plane, route and cabin you’re sitting in.

It also shows you whether that figure is above, or below, the usual averages people contribute for the same flight route.

an airplane wing with a red and white tail and a pink sky

Google Flights Emissions View

In a place you really can’t miss — aka next to the price — Google now displays a new feature on each potential flight choice. It’s not the plane type. No, you need to click “more” for that, but the carbon emissions you’ll be responsible for.

These figures are effectively an average for each passenger in each cabin, based on the plane type, routing and other figures. For a route like New York to Los Angeles, it’ll tell you how much emissions the average person creates, and how you’ll contribute, based on the choices.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

It’s actually an interesting learning tool. Looking at Alaska Airlines flights, I noted that one itinerary (on the same route) had slightly higher emissions than the others.

This was due to the flight being operated by an Airbus A321, rather than the Boeing 737’s operating the other flights. The subtle change represented a 12% difference in emissions for the journey.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

Moving up to business class also moves you way above the average emissions, rather than below. On the same flight option, I jumped from 12% below standard emissions for a passenger on the route, to 23% above, with the change in cabin.

This is based on the flight becoming less effective from a per person carbon footprint in premium cabins, due to lower density. Fewer people on a given plane makes it a less environmentally friendly option, since the overall function (transporting more people) becomes lower.

Will This Change Consumer Behavior?

Google Flights is now making it impossible for people to ignore the impact of their flying decisions. It’s right next to the price. Whether or not that changes anything is another level of the equation.

Will people see itineraries with lower emissions and choose them over others, all other things considered equal? That’s certainly plausible. But really, the big test, is price. Will people go a step further, and choose a more expensive flight, based on it being a more eco-friendly option?

Knowing Google, they’ll probably be able to tell us soon enough.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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