Blowing smoke – British Airways emitting more CO2 emissions per passenger than rival airlines

Flying with British Airways can increase CO2 emissions by up to 45 per cent per passenger when compared to rival airlines on the same UK routes, according to a new Which? Travel investigation.

The consumer champion chose popular international routes from London which were well served by a variety of carriers to compare CO2 emissions and found that on four of the six routes included, British Airways had the worst emissions of any carrier included in the study.

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

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

The snapshot analysis found that one passenger flying from Heathrow to Miami with British Airways 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.

British Airways is a flag carrier. These flag carriers tend to have older fleets of wide-bodied aircraft, which use more fuel. They 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 passengers on long-haul flights, this impact is estimated to be around three times more than economy flyers. For first-class, it’s four times.

The findings were not only a long-haul phenomenon. Which? found a BA flight from London Stansted to Palma de Mallorca (160 kilos of CO2 per passenger) emitted nearly 50 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.

Last year an investigation into airline carbon emissions uncovered that BA emits 18,000 tonnes of additional CO2 each year by indulging in a practice designed to save money. So-called “fuel tankering”, involves filling aircraft with extra fuel to avoid having to refuel in destinations where prices are higher.

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 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. 

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


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 to bear on the worst polluting airlines and force them to prioritise their impact on the environment by introducing more efficient aircraft and cleaner fuels.”


Notes to editors:

  • In October 2019, Which? asked Flyzen to compare emissions for six routes.
  • Last November, BBC programme, Panorama exposed the phenomenon of “fuel tankering” by airlines – in which planes are filled with extra fuel, usually to avoid paying higher prices for refuelling at destination airports.


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ROR – A spokesperson for BA told Which?:

‘We are tackling climate change by developing sustainable aviation fuels and opting for greener aircraft. We are currently operating more than 40 new and fuel-efficient aircraft and have a further 73 on order. These are 25% to 40% more fuel-efficient than those they replace.’


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