Eco Etiquette: 6 Tips For (More) Eco-Friendly Flying

I generally try to be eco-conscious, but it always seems like all bets are off when I have to fly somewhere. Obviously, air travel itself is bad for the environment, but it also seems like there's so much waste involved in the whole process of going to the airport, etc. Is there anything I can do to make flying a little greener?


Until Branson perfects his bio jet fuel, "green flying" will forever be an oxymoron. My trip from Los Angeles to Chicago this Thanksgiving will emit 1,022 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere -- nearly as much as driving my car for three months. I'm not proud of this. But what am I supposed to do, never see my family? That's a choice that even the most ardent environmentalist would be loathe to make.

And green going out the window doesn't stop with the plane emissions: There's the giant bottles of Aquafina in the airport shops, the fast-food restaurants flipping factory-farmed burgers, airport toilets that automatically flush three times before you've even finished peeing, the plastic cups that come with every pass of beverage service in the cabin, piles of discarded tabloid's enough to make you want to throw up your hands in despair. (Or just throw up.)

But while it may seem like you're at the mercy of the travel gods and their wasteful, polluting ways, there are still eco-friendly choices you can make on your journey that really do make a difference. And who knows? Maybe you'll inspire the fellow fliers you encounter along the way.

1. Take public transit to the airport. If you live in the country or the suburbs, this may not be realistic, but if you live in a city, nix the cab and take public transportation. You'll not only be going green (reducing carbon emissions), you'll also be saving green: It costs only $7 to take the subway/air train from Manhattan to JFK, compared to a $45 taxi fare.

2. Pack light. This reduces emissions by a) making it easier to take public transit to the airport and b) lightening the plane's load. (Less weight = less fuel = less CO2 emissions.) This is basically the concept behind the new "green" plane Southwest is currently testing, which utilizes innovative materials to reduce weight by up to five pounds per seat. Considering the amount of eating most of us will be doing over the holidays, I say pack extra light to make up for that pumpkin pie you'll be wearing on the return flight home.

3. Buy (reputable) carbon offsets. There's been a lot of debate as to whether carbon offsets actually work, but when it comes to reducing the emissions associated with air travel, you really only have two choices: buy carbon offsets, or don't fly at all. Look at it as a donation to a good cause rather than a way to excuse bad behavior. Make sure, however, that you buy them from a trusted seller.

4. Brown bag it. Actually, make that a reusable lunch tote. I've never understood why pre-made airport sandwiches have to come in such giant plastic containers. Avoid the extra packaging -- and the carbon-intensive processed food -- by packing your own healthy meal and snacks to take with you on your flight. Extra carbon credit: Pack a vegetarian lunch.

5. Say no to bottled water. I have this crazy idea that one day, eco-conscious airports will feature filtered water stations by the gates where passengers can fill up reusable bottles before their flights. Oh right, I think something like that used to exist -- they were called water fountains. Unfortunately, these relics have become scarce in most airports; those who don't want to contribute to the more than 60 million plastic water bottles Americans throw away every day are left to fill up their Kleen Kanteens in an airport bathroom (fine at O'Hare, with its top-ranked tap water; pretty gross at LAX). A safe bet is to bring a reusable bottle with a built-in filter, like EcoUsable's Ech20 stainless steel and BPA-free version.

6. Check out your reading material.
From the library, that is. The book industry loves virgin paper -- it's estimated that 30 million trees are cut down annually for books sold in the US alone. (Kindle fans will be happy to know that e-readers are somewhat green, though not as guilt-free as a borrowed book.) Can't fathom flying without your fill of Brad and Angelina? Give that US Weekly a second life by sharing it with another passenger when you're done, or at least drop it in an airport recycling bin on the way out.

Stick to these tips, and you'll be on your way to joining the green mile-high club!

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at Questions may be edited for length and clarity.