It's true that airplanes create a lot of pollution, in terms of greenhouse gases (air traffic may account for up to 11% of total emissions) but also just when it comes to plain old waste. With that in mind, Greenopia looked across the industry to figure out which carriers were the "greenest."
Virgin America tops the list, hard to beat given an average fleet age of just three years. But it's more than just fleet age; Continental comes in second despite an average age three times that of fourth-ranked JetBlue.
Southwest, Delta, United, U.S. Airways, Horizon Air (part of Alaska Airlines), and American also made the top ten.
Greenopia looked at airlines using a variety of measures, including:
- Fleet age;
- Fuel consumption practices;
- Carbon offsets;
- Green building design;
- Recycling programs; and
- Organic, local and sustainable food items available onboard.
One thing that they didn't do, unfortunately, is look outside of the United States. Proud American that I am, I have long observed that U.S. carriers tend to rank behind their international counterparts in any measured area. I'd like to see if it held true in this regard as well.
It's also not clear whether the airlines were measured in terms of domestic-only air traffic or if their international segments were included. Since some of the listed carriers (Virgin America, Southwest) are only domestic, and one (Horizon) is basically regional, that makes a difference.
And keep in mind, there are "only" about fifteen airlines in the U.S.--yes, that is a big number in absolute terms, but I think we can agree that it skews what it means to be in the top ten. (Then again, think of what it means to be excluded from the top ten; AirTran, Spirit, and Frontier are among those conspicuously absent.)
Even so, thanks to Greenopia for putting out this list. Imperfect it may be, but at least it gives us something.