Reducing the Giant Carbon Footprint of Air Travel


The square feet of Arctic summer sea ice cover melted by one passenger’s share of emissions on a 2,500-mile flight.


About the size of a queen-sized bed for each passenger on a cross country or transatlantic flight from the east coast of the United States to Western Europe. Of course that is one way. Sixty-four square feet is a more accurate calculation for the average person’s trip. The most intensive part of that flight is the going up and coming down, meaning shorter hops are not off the hook. There are plenty of places you can find on the internet that will show you an exact calculation. Here’s one: Fly or Drive Calculator and another will calculate how much you need to offset your carbon emissions from flying.

One of my challenges in these days of climate catastrophe is to get where I want to go without the giant carbon footprint of air travel. I do what I can by limiting international trips to one every year or two. I pay a little more for non-stop domestic flights whenever possible. For example, I visited the east side of the Sierra earlier this year. Taking the train would have taken me three days each way with connections and layovers. So I flew. Non-Stop Seattle to Las Vegas, the closest I could get with the fewest hours in the air.

Instead of paying for someone else to reduce their carbon emissions, I offset my trips by being super conscious about reducing my own footprint. I calculate the emissions for my trip. Then make an extra point of walking when I could drive for short hops in town, and bundling as much of my driving as I can into one day so I can leave my car parked the rest of the week. I carpool when I need to go someplace too far to walk and too complicated to reach by bus. In time these efforts become habit and I will need to seek another means of offsetting emissions from future travel.

Trained Alternative

Sounder commuter train in the King Street station Seattle WA

Then there is the train. Yes, Amtrak. I am fortunate enough (or more accurately, made the intentional choice) to live in a town served by Amtrak. This makes getting to other locations on or near Amtrak routes much more manageable. One of the routes I LOVE the most is the one from Edmonds to Portland. The best thing about it is that, unlike many longer trips, the train takes less time than the total door to door distance of air travel. When factoring in getting to the airport, checking a bag if necessary, going through security, boarding, taxi-ing, landing, getting through the plane and then the airport to baggage claim, from there to ground transportation and finally to the final destination, whew! I get tired just thinking about it.

I could have taken a bus to our local station. However, for a recent trip, the train that arrived at the best time originated in Seattle. Determined to leave my car in the driveway, I plotted the best bus route. To get there from home required a one mile walk on streets lacking sidewalks. Fortunately, I have a Rick Steves Rolling Backpack. I have used this carryon a few times for plane travel and found I could hoist it into overhead bins with ease. For this trip, all my clothes and toiletries for three days plus my laptop bag and insulated lunch bag with snacks were contained within the backpack. I only needed one small bag to carry some books I was consigning

Rolling Backpack handle up straps out with shopping bag for books on top
Rolling Backpack with bag for books on top
waiting for the bus after a mile walk.

Notice the thermos in the side pocket. There’s another advantage to train travel. I can fill my thermos with my favorite tea before I leave home and not have to guzzle or dump it before going through security.

Part Two: getting to the airport

See my next blog post “Miles Before I Sleep” for another episode of Door to Door By Ground and ways to meet challenges in these days of climate catastrophe to get where I want to go without the carbon footprint of private auto travel.


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