Global Warming Follies

Chicago to London: the “eco-scandal” flight

Posted in Follies by tjgavin on March 16, 2008

So much good stuff came out of this tidbit of news. The short version is that American Airlines flew a plane with five passengers on board from Chicago to London after some cancellations and fleet management needs. The fun stuff is that Friends of the Earth must have pee in their sippy cups because they’re pretty angry about it.

American Airlines’ explanation and Friends of the Earth complaint:

“With such a small passenger load we did consider whether we could cancel the flight and re-accommodate the five remaining passengers on other flights.

“However, this would have left a plane load of west-bound passengers stranded in London Heathrow who were due to fly back to the US on the same aircraft.

“We sought alternative flights for the west-bound passengers but heavy loads out of London that day meant that this was not possible.”

Richard Dyer, Friends of the Earth’s transport campaigner said: “Flying virtually empty planes is an obscene waste of fuel. Through no fault of their own , each passenger’s carbon footprint for this flight is about 45 times what it would have been if the plane had been full.

“Governments must stop granting the aviation industry the unfair privileges that allow this to happen by taxing aviation fuel and including emissions from aviation in international agreements to tackle climate change.”

This is the old trick of making a big deal out of small numbers to play on the public’s perception. According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, there are more than 87,000 flights in the U.S. every day. The Air Transport Action Group says that an average flight burns about 970 gallons of fuel per hour. Okay, so we need to make a few assumptions. For the purposes of this calculation, we’ll be generous and say that the average flight in the U.S. is three hours long. Since we’ll be figuring out what portion of the total daily fuel consumption was this American Airlines flight, it’s quite a concession to use only the U.S. statistics and not worldwide. Also, to assume that the average flight is only three hours lowers the total from which a percentage will be calculated. Therefore, all factors considered, the calculated percentage will almost certainly be overstated quite a bit and not even close to the worldwide figures.

Still with me? Here’s what I figure:

Flights per day (U.S. only): 87,000 (a)
Hours per flight (assumed): 3 (b)
Gallons per hour: 970 (c)

Flight hours (a x b): 261,000 (d)
Gallons per day (c x d): 253,170,000 (e)

Gallons consumed by AA: 22,000 (f)
Percentage of Total (f / e): 0.0087%

That’s a tiny number. So, if I understand the Friends of Al Gore the Earth, we are supposed to freak out over a flight that consumed 87 thousandths ten thousandths (thanks gajim!) of a percent of the daily fuel consumed just in the U.S.? Please tell me you’re joking. Imagine what that percentage would look like if I have worldwide figures to work with. Such arguments are designed to perceive numbers as greater than they are or to have greater meaning or impact. When you actually do the math, you find that a number like 22,000, which sounds large in some contexts, is but a tiny fragment of a morsel of the total considering the big picture.

A consumer-oriented blog, The Consumerist, posted this story along with a poll, giving their readers a choice between commending American Airlines for their customer service, agreeing with the eco-scandal stance, or basic indifference. Luckily, as of 2:30 pm today, only about 10% of the readers agreed with the eco-scandal nonsense. Good for you, readers!

Link (original news item – Telegraph)


3 Responses to 'Chicago to London: the “eco-scandal” flight'

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  1. gajim said,

    0.0087 =/= 87 thousandths

    That’s actually 8.7 thousandths or 87 ten thousandths. Ya, I’m picky, but not pricky.

    Enjoy stopping by your blog. Thanks for your efforts and writings.

  2. […] Posted in Uncategorized by tjgavin on the March 25, 2008 We’ve discussed the unnecessary freakouts over things related to air travel before, and this one isn’t much different. Emirates Airlines is putting showers in its new […]

  3. […] tons of carbon dioxide. For an analysis of how absolutely minute airline emissions are, see our previous post on the […]

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