Rewriting the Narrative of Airplane Travel

When I was younger I was set to become a travel writer. The experiences, the stories, and the prestige. Traveling the world gives off the aroma of wanderlust and freedom. To be a scientist, a journalist, or a photographer is to travel and learn through investigation and captured stories. When in the company of a world traveler, their opinion suddenly matters more because they are cultured, they have seen the world. Most of the population is envious of those who have the opportunity for world travel. When a passport is full no one is thinking about the amount of carbon emissions released into the air by plane travel, they are simply in awe of the freedom.  

How does travel happen? Often by airplane. It’s fast, you can rest, read a book, or watch a movie. Flying is the preferred mode of transportation on long-distance trips, as well as more consistent business travel. Why use up precious vacation days as travel days to simply drive to the location when you can get there faster in the air?

What if I told you that an average airplane gets 400 feet per gallon of gasoline? Let’s look at that deeper. Let’s say you are traveling from San Francisco International Airport in California to John F. Kennedy International airport in New York. The total miles from the west coast of the United States to the east coast is 5,351 miles. If an average airplane gets 400 feet to the gallon, it would need 13.2 gallons of gas to cover 1 mile. An average flight from CA to NY would need 38,744.64 gallons of gas, and about 6 hours of travel. 

If you decided to drive across the county, at about an average of 30 miles to the gallon, you are looking at 97.83 gallons of gas, and about 44 hours of travel.

Let’s compare: Driving equates to about 7 times the amount of time spent in travel. Flying uses 396 times the amount of gas than driving.

What does this mean? Well, when gasoline is burned and evaporates it turns into different gases that are emitted into the air, one of those being carbon dioxide. An average gallon of gas emits 18.07 pounds of carbon dioxide (Blueskymodel.com).

Let’s compare that again: Flying emits 396 times the amount of carbon emissions into the air than driving across the U.S. On average flying emits 350 tons (700,115.6448 pounds) of carbon dioxide. Driving emits less than 1 ton (1,767.7881 pounds) of carbon dioxide. 

Ever looked at the Planes Live app? It is a Flight Status, Tracker and Radar app of all the places currently flying around the world. Almost ten months ago if you opened up this app, you would have been fascinated by the amount of airplanes flying around the world at that very minute. At this time, with COVID-19, travel by airplane went down significantly. According to an article on Vox.com, in April of 2019, there were about 2 million passengers flying. That has dropped to about 100,000 passengers in April 2020.

The U.S Energy and Information Administration stated that emissions from gas and energy could drop about 7% this year due to less traveling because of COVID-19 guidelines. Atmospheric Scientists are able to truly test their ideas of the harm of carbon emissions has on our air quality, and finding significant results with less vapors released from the burning of gasoline. (MORE INFO.)

The United Nations stated in the 2019 Emissions Gap Report, “if commitments, policies and action can deliver a 7.6% emissions reduction every year between 2020 and 2030, we CAN limit global warming to 1.5°C.”

It seems we may actually achieve this goal this year. Here’s the real test: will we be able to keep our carbon emissions low when our world opens back up as it had been operating before COVID-19?

What if we rewrote the narrative on airplane travel? What if car travel became more glamorous. In the U.S. there has been a rise in road trips over the last few years, by nearly 17% since 2016 (TravelPulse.com). The trend really began when National Geographic promoted National Parks in their monthly publication throughout 2016. National Geographic has been supporting National Parks for over 100 years, but with this push many more people were interesting in seeing outdoor marvels throughout the United States, as well as helping to support them financially.

The joy of being on the road! Driving from San Francisco to New York on Interstate 80, would mean experiencing Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, as well. What if we decided that traveling via airplane was only reserved for special occasions, and exploring our own country was not only responsible for lowering our personal carbon footprint, but was held in high esteem?

It is stated that what we do personally doesn’t have as big an effect on the health of our planet than what larger companies can accomplish. However, what we do individually can lead to bigger actions that can make greater change.

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