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Why flying first class increases your carbon footprint by six times

View of the class of the worlds first Airbus all-business class A330-200 of Hong Kong Airline in Beijing, China, 15 February 2012. The worlds first Airbus all-business class A330-200 of Hong Kong Airline Wednesday (15 February 2012) arrived in Beijing. The flight is equipped with WIFI Internet and passengers can use cellphones and laptops on it.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The World Bank has published a new working paper (PDF) that shows how passengers in premium airline classes create more of the C02 that leads to global warming. Essentially, all the extra space for high-paying customers means airlines expend more fuel to move them, especially if some of the more expensive seats are left empty. Plus, first class passengers tend to take more luggage. Controlling for relative passenger weight, the efficiency of the aircraft and the length of the trip is tricky, but the numbers in the table below represent a benchmark of how many times greater the carbon footprint is for various classes compared with the average passenger:

The World Bank commissioned the study in part to figure out how to reduce its own carbon footprint (air travel makes up more than half of it). According to their calculations, eliminating first-class travel for employees between 2009 and 2012 reduced the organization’s carbon footprint by some 20,000 tons.

AP Photo

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