Flying with BA can increase emissions by 46% per passenger says Which?

British Airways is named as worst polluter on four of the most popular international routes as research shows an increase in carbon emissions by up to 46% per passenger compared to rival airlines, Which? claims

  • Which? looked at six international routes from London to compare emissions
  • On four of these, BA had the most emissions of any carrier included in the study
  • It found emissions on BA flight to Palma were 46% more than Ryanair, Jet2 or Tui

Flying with British Airways can increase CO2 emissions by up to 46 per cent per passenger when compared to rival airlines on the same routes, according to a new investigation.

Which? Travel looked at six popular international routes from London, which are well served by a variety of carriers, to compare CO2 emissions.

It found that on four of these routes, BA had the most emissions of any airline included in the study.

Flying with British Airways can increase CO2 emissions by up to 46 per cent per passenger when compared to rival airlines on the same routes, according to a new Which? investigation

To conduct its snapshot analysis, Which? asked Flyzen, a firm specialising in carbon emissions data, in October 2019, to compare CO2 emissions for the six routes.

The emissions were calculated by taking into account factors including mileage, aircraft model, the efficiency of the engine, seat configuration, the number of stopovers (if any) and the likelihood of the aircraft spending time taxiing at take-off or landing.

Which? says it found that one passenger flying from Heathrow to Miami with BA would be responsible for 1.13 tonnes of carbon – almost a third more than for the same journey with Virgin Atlantic (860.9 kilos).

That’s a difference of 544 kilos of CO2 for a return journey – the equivalent of more than two months of electricity in the average UK home.

BA is a flag carrier and the consumer champion says these tend to have older fleets of wide-bodied aircraft, which use more fuel.

These airlines also carry more business and first-class passengers – who, because they are afforded more space in the cabin (resulting in fewer passengers overall), have a larger carbon footprint.

For business class passengers on long-haul flights, Which? says that the impact is estimated to be around three times more than economy flyers. For first-class, it’s four times.

But the findings were not only a long-haul phenomenon, says Which?

A table from Which? showing the carbon emissions on six international routes from London on different carriers 

It also explained it found a BA flight from London Stansted to Palma de Mallorca (160 kilos of CO2 per passenger) emitted 46 per cent more than the same route with Ryanair, Jet2 or Tui (109.3 kilos).

On a round trip, that’s a saving of 100 kilos – the same as leaving a 60W light bulb switched on for 161 days straight.

The study also found that BA emitted more CO2 on its Gatwick to Alicante route (129.5 tonnes of CO2) when compared to Ryanair (111.9 tonnes of CO2), as well as on its Gatwick to Dublin service (62.5 tonnes of CO2) than Ryanair (58.8 tonnes of CO2). Aer Lingus emitted the same as BA.

These figures come after it was reported last year that BA emits 18,000 tonnes of additional CO2 each year through ‘fuel tankering’, which involves filling aircraft with extra fuel to avoid having to fill up at destinations where prices are higher.

At the time, the airline said that the practice ‘contributes less than 0.1 per cent of its total carbon emissions’ but promised to review this.

The study found that an indirect flight from London Heathrow to Singapore with Cathay Pacific (1.7 tonnes of CO2) produced three quarters more emissions than on the same journey with KLM (958 kilos)

 Which? reveals six ways air passengers can reduce their carbon emissions

Meanwhile, in the worst case that Which? looked at, an indirect flight from London Heathrow to Singapore with Cathay Pacific (1.7 tonnes of CO2) produced three quarters more emissions than on the same journey with KLM (958 kilos).

That’s a difference of almost 1.5 tonnes for a return journey – the same amount of CO2 expelled by 100 full tanks of diesel in an average-sized car.

Which? says this example shows that connecting in Hong Kong with Cathay rather than in Amsterdam with KLM means a couple more hours in the air, and therefore far more carbon being expelled.

Flying has found itself at the centre of the debate on climate change with air travel giving rise to offsetting schemes, which promise to make flights carbon neutral.

However, Which? says it found that passengers worried about their carbon footprint can make much more significant reductions to their emissions by changing who they fly with.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said: ‘These figures show that swapping to a greener airline will allow the many of us concerned about climate change to immediately and significantly reduce our individual carbon footprint.

‘If millions of us were to switch to a less polluting airline on our next holiday, it would bring pressure on the worst polluting airlines and force them to prioritise their impact on the environment by introducing more efficient aircraft and cleaner fuels.’

A British Airways spokesman told MailOnline Travel: ‘The conversation about climate change is too important to be undermined by Which? using shoddy research based on data which is several years out of date.

‘Which? only looked at two per cent of our flights and their paid-for calculations, hidden behind a paywall, are completely at odds with the figures calculated by the range of airlines it claims to have investigated.

‘We are committed to net-zero by 2050 and we are open to discussion on our approach to reducing our carbon emissions with anyone who is interested in accurate and robust data.’ 

Which? says it stands by its research. 

A spokesperson for Cathay Pacific said: ‘Cathay Pacific is one of the leading airlines in taking a proactive stance in minimising our environmental impact and carbon footprint. We are the first airline to invest in an aviation biofuel company, as well as the first in committing to use 375 million US gallons of biofuel in a 10-year period when commercial production commences. The airline has also been consistently using blended biofuel on Airbus delivery flights since 2016.

‘Our newest long-haul fleet, the ultra-efficient Airbus A350, is only two years old. Overall, our average long-haul fleet age stands at about five years. Cathay Pacific has 33 firm orders of brand new A350 and Boeing 777-9 long-haul aircraft, and with these new aircraft entering into service, our fleet age is only going to get younger and our efficiency higher.

‘While the data doesn’t reflect our own findings, Cathay Pacific welcomes the report from Which? and we are always reviewing how we can do better in all areas of our operations.

‘There are different algorithms in measuring airline efficiency; in addition, the parameters being used in an equation also vary. For example, load factor, biofuel versus kerosene, full service versus low-cost carrier, amount of cargo carried on a passenger flight, etc.

‘This makes it hard to make like-for-like comparisons. International aviation bodies measure carbon efficiency of global airlines regularly, and Cathay Pacific is among the top performers.’  

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