Why, exactly, are nonstop flights so much better for the environment than flights with a stopover? It seems like the latter would burn only slightly more fuel (and thus emit slightly more carbon), since it requires just a few more miles of travel.
Turns out, though, that nonstop flights are exponentially better for the environment.
It’s not just because you’re traveling fewer miles. It’s because as much as 50% of carbon emissions come from takeoff and landing!
photo by: Global Jet
Surprisingly, it took a lot a research to figure this out. I thought a simple Google search would turn up the answers. Instead, I spent hours digging through websites, running calculations and conversions, and even browsed through flight school manuals to learn why stopover flights are worse for the environment. Because it’s so hard to find this info, I encourage you to take notes and spread the word.
Here are some calculations:
- During a 143 mile direct flight (roughly Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia, PA), 51% of fuel burned is from the taxi, takeoff, climb, and landing.
- During a 863 mile direct flight (roughly Washington, D.C. to St. Louis, MO), 16.6% of fuel burned is from the taxi, takeoff, climb, and landing.
- During a 1,151 mile nonstop flight (roughly Washington, D.C. to Minneapolis, MN), a plane burns about 13,896 lbs of fuel (1,819 of which come from take-off and landing). Thus, 13% of fuel is burned from taxi, takeoff, climbing, and decent.
But, if you stopped in Chicago for a layover on your way to Minneapolis, your planes (jointly) will burn at least 15,715 pounds of fuel (3,638 from takeoff and landing). So a whopping 23% of the fuel your planes use goes towards takeoff and landing.
In other words, because you took a flight with a layover, your itinerary burns at least 1,820 more pounds of fuel than a nonstop flight. And because you likely sat on the extensive runway traffic that is Chicago O’Hare Airport, your plane probably burned through even more fuel.
Since 1,820 pounds of jet fuel probably doesn’t mean much to you, I’ll translate. Jet fuel weighs approximately 6.7 lbs/gallon.
Thus, 272 extra gallons of fuel are burned during this stopover itinerary than during a non-stop flight.
That’s the equivalent of filling up my Honda Accord 20 times!
Next time you fly, ask yourself: “Is saving $50 by flying with a layover really worth the environmental cost?” For me, it’s not.
Author’s note: I’m not a mathematician. I haven’t taken a real math course since high school (stats in college doesn’t count). There were a lot of calculations and conversions and searches that went into these numbers. I doubled checked my work, but please feel free to run the numbers for yourself. Also, note that the type and size of plane changes these calculations as does the distance flown. Calculations are based on Climate Care.org’s Aviation Emissions and Offsets.
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