The Greenwash Brigade

Is Delta really "Flying Greener?"

Janne K. Flisrand Feb 8, 2010

I recently got back from an international vacation. I don’t usually read in-flight magazines, but I spied a headline while my neighbor perused his that made me pick mine up. Evidently, according to CEO Richard Anderson’s editorial, Delta is “Flying Greener,” (in the January magazine.)

He highlights their efforts to be more energy efficient — laudable, but mostly profit-driven as fuel is a significant and volatile portion of airlines’ costs. My favorite misleading sentence reads,

“On average, our fleet performs at 55 passenger-miles per gallon, better than a hybrid car transporting one person.”

This may be true, but I wouldn’t drive the 4,936 miles (as calculated by TerraPass) round trip to San Jose, Costa Rica for a 10-day vacation — which is what I did with Delta’s assistance. Flying facilitates travel miles people would NEVER consider in a car. The airplane/hybrid comparison is a red herring.

Delta also shared that their emission reduction since 2000 is the equivalent of 19.5 million cars from our roads (who came up with that measure, anyway?). How much of that is reduced demand in the bad economy?

He concluded by identifying external bogeymen that prevent them from further reducing the environmental impacts of flying — the specter of emissions taxes, and the more justifiable outdated Air Traffic Control technology which he says requires inefficient traffic patterns.

Emissions taxes — which would be passed on to consumers — hold out the hope that increased costs of flying might encourage consumers to fly less frequently. And, I’m not an expert, but I can believe that updated Air Traffic Control could also produce improvements.

Flying is hard to give up — and anything that defies the laws of gravity is never going to be “green.” In the end, the most it can hope for is “less bad.”

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.