Travelers Less Inclined to Fly Despite easyJet’s Sustainability Initiatives

By Anna Zwettler and Leon Woudstra

easyJet has become Europe’s leading airline in terms of sustainability innovations. But environmentally aware travelers are not falling for the company’s strategy. 

Last week, easyJet announced it is introducing carbon offset certificates for its corporate customers. These certificates make it easier for businesses to gain an insight into their carbon footprint produced by travel as the world is starting to open up. The certificates are part of easyJet’s strategy toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“The effect of those certificates is extremely minimal,” says Emma Spannenberg. She works in the sustainable energy industry and decided three years ago that she would give up on flying. “I honestly think that currently, flying cannot yet be done sustainably. Or at least, not for me,” she says.  

easyJet is the first and only airline in Europe to compensate the Co2 produced from fuel emissions for all passengers on all its flights. This is done by supporting projects like protecting forests in Ethiopia and supporting renewable energy initiatives. The policy comes without an additional cost for the passenger, safeguarding the company’s low fares.

The company says that it is actively trying to take accountability for its impact on the environment. “We know that the younger generations typically are more sensitive to these kinds of topics and, and we really focus on making sure that we have a lower impact,” says Bertrand Godinot, country director of easyJet France and Netherlands. 

But to the young and environmentally aware traveller, it seems unlikely that airlines are genuinely committed to countering climate change. 

When told about easyJet’s commitments to sustainability, Jakob Birner responds: “I guess it’s like greenwashing like, yeah it’s a hoax.” Jakob decided to cut his flying habits after he witnessed environmental degradation due to human misbehavior during his travels around the world. 

“It is just an advertisement for them,” he continues. He suspects that by presenting itself as an environmentally aware airline, easyJet is able to gain those customers who do not want to give up on flying while still wanting “to do something good for the environment,” Jakob says. 

Worldwide CO2 emissions by commercial aviation, 2010-2022

These sentiments, however, do not correspond to easyJet’s experience. Since it introduced CO2 offsetting for all passengers in 2019, it has seen a positive response from customers. “We see that when passengers know that we actually offset emissions, they are 50% more likely to fly on easyJet,” says Godinot. 

The company’s plans for a sustainable future of aviation do not end with carbon offsetting. In 2019, the company was one of the first to introduce the Airbus A321NEO to its fleet. These aircraft are 15% more fuel-efficient than their competitors. Additionally, the airline now uses just one engine on all its flight taxies, while the cabin crew uniforms are each made of 45 recycled plastic bottles. 

The most ambitious project is its partnership with Wright Electric in developing electric aircraft for flights up to 800 miles or roughly 1280 kilometers. Meaning the airline would be able to operate flights from London to Barcelona without burning any fuel. The aircraft is expected to join the fleet as early as 2035. 

“I still think that a fully electric train or fully electric bus will just be way more environmentally friendly than an airplane, because the energy needed to fly the plane is the problem.”

“I would consider flying if there were electric planes,” says Emma. But even with electric planes, there are two factors of importance to her. “First, has the electricity that is used been generated sustainably? And second, how efficient is it to do this?” She says that there is a shortage of sustainable energy and that she would therefore rather see this energy be used for something else, as powering an aircraft requires a lot of it.   

Jakob seems to agree. “I still think that a fully electric train or fully electric bus will just be way more environmentally friendly than an airplane, because the energy needed to fly the plane is the problem,” he says. 

Whether easyJet will one day switch to an all-electric fleet is still uncertain, according to Godinot. “Electric aircraft will be introduced by 2035 so it is too early to tell whether [the fleet] is going to be fully electric or whether it is going to be a mix with a hydro-engine.”

In the United States, this is already in the words with United Airlines introducing 100% electric, supersonic long-haul aircraft from start-up Boom Supersonic as early as 2029. 

Banner: ramboldheiner on Pixabay

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