Why Non-Stop Flights Are Better for the Environment


why non-stop flights are better – When I’m checking for prices of flights and seeing what days work best for my schedule, I am always trying to find the cheapest non-stop flight that I can.

Time is of the essence, and as I am often traveling with my children, it is worth the extra money to book a flight that is nonstop, instead of having layovers.

I am also one to not check bags.

It is difficult to drag bags on and off planes, also with kids, to try to catch the next, connecting flight.

I booked these flights thinking why non-stop flights are better.

For the convenience, our comfort, and my sanity.

But then I started thinking about why non-stop flights are better, not just for myself, but for the environment too.

How is a direct flight different than a non-stop flight?

Most people believe if they do not have to change planes, they are on a direct, non-stop flight.

This is not true as they do not have the same meaning.

When you are online searching to make a flight reservation, it is most always better for the environment to take a non-stop flight.

This means it goes from one airport to another, without stopping.

A direct flight has several destinations, whether or not the final destinations affect all of the passengers, it makes stops from the original airport before arriving to its final destination.

While some passengers may deplane at the first destination, other passengers may remain seated on the plane as new passengers board.

So while they seem to be interchangeable terms, they are not.

Why non-stop flights are better

Aside from the time and convenience, I never really stopped to think why non-stop flights are better for the environment than direct 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.

It turns out, however, that non-stop 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!
why nonstop flights are better
photo by: Global Jet

I really wanted to know exactly how and why non-stop flights are better.

Surprisingly, it took a lot of 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.

Knowing that all flights are not created equal will help you to make informed choices.

Some calculations of airplanes’ fuel usage

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 descent.

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 toward takeoff and landing.

Always remember that a direct flight is different from than a flight that is non-stop.

In other words, because you took a flight with a layover, your itinerary burns at least 1,820 more pounds of fuel than a non-stop flight.

Additionally, 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.

Therefore, 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.

Knowing why non-stop flights are better will hopefully encourage you to consider them the next time you schedule plane reservations.

I’m not a mathematician.

I haven’t taken a real math course since my MBA over 20 years ago.

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.

Traveler Security Lanes ~ Here’s 7 Tips How to Use Them Like an Expert

Remember the days it used to be fun and exciting to go to the airport and embark on your trip?

Now with increased security, crowded airports and overbooked flights, things often take more time and patience.

Yet airports are always working to streamline processes to make the customers’ experience faster and hopefully better.

On recent trips to from Minneapolis to Dallas and Chicago, I noticed Expert Traveler security lanes are cropping up at more airports.

That’s great news for savvy travelers.

But be warned — these lanes are self-select so you don’t have to be a frequent traveler to use them.

Don’t be surprised to find people there who should be in the Casual or Family Traveler lanes.

How to use the Expert Traveler security lanes like a pro

Travel with a Dog on a Plane

Have your boarding pass and ID out

Before you get to the agent who will check your papers, take out your boarding pass and ID.

Make sure they’re facing the right way when you hand them to the agent.

Be friendly and polite but don’t engage in idle chitchat with the security personnel.

Wear slip-on shoes

Wear shoes that you can quickly remove when you get to the front of the line.

Or, untie your shoes while you’re waiting in line so they’re ready to slip off when you get to the conveyor belt.

Remove your liquids

Don’t wait until you have a tray in front of you to start digging through your luggage for your bag of liquids.

Take your liquids out while you’re waiting in line.

Take off your coat (or sweatshirt or sweater)

Don’t wait for the TSA agent to ask you to remove your jacket.

Even if you think you can get by in your light-weight button up shirt, it’s better to play it safe.

If you’re wearing anything that could be interpreted as outerwear, take it off.

Remove your laptop from your bag

Unless you have a TSA-approved laptop bag, you must take your laptop out of your bag.

Do your research about your bag beforehand; don’t hold up the line.

This also goes for your C-PAP machines and other devices.

Plan your trays

Before you get to the conveyor belt, know how many trays you’ll need.

Grab your trays and move out of the way.

Plan on one for your laptop, one for any small luggage (depending on the airport), and one for everything else.

Some airports may require you to divide up your things further.

If you have kids, help them get the trays and load their belongings as well.

Once you’re through security…

Take your tray(s), grab your things, and move out of the way.

Be considerate and keep the line moving.

If you need to tie your shoes or put your luggage back together, carry them with you to the chairs a few feet away.

Do your best to get out of the way and do not stop suddenly.

The Expert Traveler security lanes are excellent for people who travel frequently.

But anyone who considers himself an “expert traveler” can go through that line.

Even if he’s traveling with a 3 year-old and hasn’t flown in a decade. 

Just follow these tips to make sure you’re not holding up the line.

Damages of Air Travel on Our Environment

Most of us love air travel from one destination to another and we love to get the aerial view of the cities around the world.

It is not uncommon to have anyone who mainly gets to only travel on land get excited over the idea of flying.

And air travel definitely has its benefits and exciting moments, right from the desire to get a window seat to maximize the benefits of a guaranteed perfect aerial view to the thrill of cruising several thousand feet above the ground.
airport security screening
It is indeed an experience that one would probably want to take advantage of severally.

It has its disadvantages though, for example, any aviation accident has fatal effects and may probably not have any survivors after the accident.

It is also a very expensive affair to construct an airport and purchase all the airplanes used in air transport, so it requires a huge capital outlay in order to be effected.

Additionally, in relation to the environment, air travel has increasingly caused concern over the pollution it causes on our environment.

The negative impact caused by air transport on our environment is outlined below;

It has been estimated that air travel contributes at least 3-30% of all the global warming on our earth.

One transatlantic return flight for example, emits almost half of the carbon dioxide emissions as from all the other sources like heating, lighting and car use, according to research.

They are mainly a source of greenhouse gases like nitrogen oxides, water vapor and carbon dioxide CO2.

Chemicals like Benzene which are found in cigarettes are to make used this fuel.

Research documents that in order to stabilize the atmospheric carbon dioxide current levels, we need to work towards ensuring that our total carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 60%; and already, the developed world emits more than its fair share due to all the industrialization and developments going on.

Water vapor emitted by the aircraft reacts with nitrogen dioxides in the atmosphere leading to destruction of the ozone layer in the stratosphere Nitrogen found below the ozone layer (in the troposphere) contributes to ozone formation, but unfortunately, it doesn’t assist in replenishing the ozone layer at this level.

Instead, it actually contributes to the smog found around the airports and additionally acts as a greenhouse gas.

Another negative effect of water vapor is that it leads to the formation of increased cirrus clouds, and this contributes to global warming.

Additionally, it has been proven that contribution to the negative impact on the environment is caused by the aviation industries themselves, over and above the emissions from the airplanes.

This is mainly brought on in the course of processing and transporting the aviation fuel.

The whole process of maintaining and manufacturing the airplanes, the airports and all the vehicles used in support services have gone a long way in the creation of extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Air transport consumes particularly large quantities of non-renewable fossil fuel.

The jet fuel that is used in the aircraft is mainly non-renewable and the need to find alternative sources of energy to be able to sustain air transport cannot be underestimated.

It is needful that a solution is found soon to this predicament, so that we will not soon deplete this valuable resource.

It is therefore correct to say that air travel essentially promotes an unsustainable form of transport.

Jets that are mainly used in army operations are some of the noisiest crafts in aviation.

Together with other passenger and cargo airplanes, though these may not produce as much noise as the jets, aircraft in general are a major source of noise pollution in our environment.

So the next time you need to air travel, consider the environment and where possible, find alternative means of transport to your destination.

Related Article:

photo credit: TSA

14 thoughts on “Why Non-Stop Flights Are Better for the Environment”

  1. Just one question. Because people are switching flights wouldnt it actually be better for the environment to have stopovers? In other words, say, 100 people travel from NYC to LA and burn however much fuel it requires, but say that 100 people travel from NYC to Denver, then at Denver 50 new people get on and travel with 50 from the previous flight to LA. The amount of fuel would be divided between more people, therefore, making each persons carbon footprint smaller. I don’t know its just a thought sitting here haven’t done any math or anything but it seems with stopover with people changing flights more people would be using the same amount or slightly more fuel, but in the end, although the gross fuel usage is more, the per capita impact is less.

  2. @ Zachary – That’s an interesting point. Ideally each plane would be loaded so that 100 people wanting to go from NYC to LA would all be on the same plane flying a nonstop route.
    But, obviously this can’t occur. So, if a direct flight is available (and it’s not always the case) one should still take the direct flight.

  3. @Matt – Very true. I wonder how much more people are willing to pay for a nonstop flight over a stopover flight. Even knowing the environmental cost there is a limit to how much more I would pay for a nonstop flight.

  4. Not only that it’s quicker and you don’t have to sit around! Win! Win!!

    The sad truth though is stop overs are cheaper and most people go with the cheapest flight, especially since prices are so high now.

  5. With all these airline problems, I’ve been noticing that I’ve had to fly a lot more stopover flights than nonstop ones. Mostly it seems that there’s just a lot less direct flights.

  6. This article is completely incorrect, because it ignores the extra fuel burned due to the additional weight of fuel that must be carried for a longer nonstop flight. Planes only carry enough fuel to reach their destination, plus a safety margin.

  7. Zach An important question you have left out is the fuel used to carry fuel. To illustrate I will use some fictional numbers but you can plug in the real numbers. Say a plane flying from New York to Delhi carrying 200 passengers carries 40000 gallons of fuel. Now definitely some fuel is being burned just to carry the weight of the fuel. Now if the plane made a stopover in London it would startoff with only 20000 gallons of fuel and use correspondingly less fuel and then refill in London again with 20000 gallons of fuel. So again its a lighter plane and needs less fuel to fly the rest of the way. Basically the difference is the same as a jet fighter landing to refuel or doing an air to air refueling. It needs fuel to get the fuel available up in the air- the only difference being here the plane is acting as its own tanker. Basically on nonstop flights what you have are fuel tankers with a few passengers on board. So I am not sure that nonstop flights save fuel. Yes they do reduce the wear and tear on the plane as well as on your body as landings and takeoffs cause the maximum wear and tear. Secondly on really long flights like Chicago Delhi which are 14 hours you take on an added risk of deep vein thrombosis. So ultimately it comes down to whether you want to avoid the stress of landing and takeoff and save the hours of your time balanced against 50 dollars and a slightly higher risk of DVT; the environmental argument seems not be really conclusive

  8. @Harvey and @Prabuddha I completely agree with you that a plane will need to carry more fuel for a nonstop flight however that still does not account for the fact that it requires a lot more energy and power to takeoff.

  9. We always book non-stops, but we did it for other reasons. We both have a mild fear of flying, and take offs and landings are the worst part of the trip. Now that we have a three year old, stop-overs are quite a drag. We go so far as to choose our destinations based on where we can fly non-stop. Fortunately, we live in NYC, so we still have plenty of options! Still, your post makes so much sense, and it gives us one more solid reason to keep booking those non-stop flights. Even if they sometimes are a bit more expensive. Thanks!

  10. Interesting question indeed. Another point is that planes who land have often to wait in queue to arrive at the gate, and the long taxiing way is another drag. Not to mention the extra time needed to travel from one airplane to the other. How many miles does it take you to travel inside the airport? And how much of your precious time is needed? It does not end here, because take-off will be another drag. The waiting area for clearance to go has a revealing term: penalty box. My last flight back from New York was delayed an hour at JFK, and still arrived on scheduled time six hours and 15 minutes later in Amsterdam Schiphol! Do the timetables factor this in? –
    Plus a last point: Unless you only have cabin baggage, you will have to trust that your baggage will make the right transfer, too. There are so many stories of lost baggage, therefore a stopover ups the chance for hassle in that respect, too.
    And to conclude: Is the hub and spokes system (only a few main airports serve smaller ones) in the USA to blame for fewer and fewer direct flights?

  11. Wow, these numbers really make you think… It makes me wonder why it is cheaper to fly from via Dubai when you are going from Hamburg to Accra (Ghana, West-Africa), compared to flying directly via London to Accra.

  12. The article appears to assume the fuel used in climbing and landing is entirely wasted. This assumption is false. In a flight of less than 500 miles, typically the plane is climbing the first half and descending the second half, with essentially no constant altitude cruising at all, so it is only the “wasted” fuel that actually gets you to your destination. What is important is to compare the average fuel consumption per passenger mile traveled. Compared to cruising at altitude, climbing uses more fuel, but this is partially compensated by the descending portion which glides the plane forward on less fuel per mile. It is illustrative to look at the limiting cases. Certainly it is wasteful to break up a flight of less than 500 miles into segments, because there is eesentially no cruising at altitude. However, it saves fuel to break up a flight of more than 6 hours into segments. In these long flights, the weight of the fuel carried approaches the weight of the payload, which means the effective total weight at takeoff is much more a >6 hour flight than for a shorter segment. As for pricing of flights, the relative fuel consumption is certainly not very important at $35/bbl. Flight pricing is by customer value and supply/demand. Non-stops will generally be more expensive due to greater customer convenience and fewer available seats compared to connecting flights.

  13. @Lovell – Thanks for your comments. I’m not sure what you mean by the “fuel used in climbing is entirely wasted”. I’m not saying that the fuel is wasted, only that it takes more fuel for the ascent and descent than it does for cruising. Could you clarify?

  14. Doesn’t this assume the flight would be canceled (or not) based on that one person buying a ticket for it though?

    Good points about carrying extra fuel for longer flights, though.

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