A round-trip flight from Chattanooga to Paris, France, emits 2.14 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to the nonprofit Carbon Footprint. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a measure of carbon footprint and the gasses that are released into the atmosphere, and it's unavoidable when traveling for vacations to far-off destinations.
Two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions come from air travel, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, but evidence suggests that non-CO2 aircraft emissions at high altitudes can actually have more of a climate impact.
With about 40.3 million flights departing from airports worldwide in 2020, according to Statista, many airlines are committing to fighting their soaring contributions.
The International Air Transport Association represents about 82% of air traffic. Over 30 member airlines now offer carbon-offsetting initiatives that allow passengers to "neutralize" their portion of an aircraft's carbon emissions by investing in carbon-reduction projects, like donating to nonprofits that fund related research or that plant trees.
In February, Delta Airlines announced a $1 billion plan to become the first carbon-neutral airline over the next 10 years by putting money into carbon-reduction research and modernizing its fleet while also investing in forestry that counteracts the negative effects of air travel.
United Airlines has committed to an "Eco-Skies" initiative to reduce its "footprint in the air, on the ground and at [its] facilities," according to its website. United plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2050, becoming the first airline to invest in and commit to sustainable biofuel and offering corporate customers the option of a customized offsetting program.
What you can do
Aside from what your chosen airline is doing to reduce emissions, you can have a personal impact.
Lonely Planet recommends taking direct flights and packing as little as possible to keep the weight of the plane down, which will save fuel (and checked-luggage charges!).
While staying in a hotel, try skipping housekeeping services, thus cutting down on electricity and water usage. The World Wide Fund For Nature reminds travelers to also conserve water by taking quick showers, limit energy use in the form of air-conditioning and hot water, and to rent a bike or use public transportation.
You can also choose to stay in an environmentally friendly hotel. TripSavvy recommends the boutique 1 Hotels chain for its commitment to sustainability by using 100% recycled decor, key cards made of recycled wood and offering Tesla car service; Hyatt, which has a 2020 Environmental Sustainability Strategy to reduce waste and water; and Accor hotels, whose Fairmont, Swissotel and Raffles brands all have eco-designed beds made of recycled wood, linens made from recycled bottles and eco-friendly soap and shampoos.
Finally, while exploring a destination, opt for locally sourced food and souvenirs, cutting down on pollution due to shipping while also contributing to the local economy.