An investigation launched by consumer magazine Which? reveals that British Airways has, on average, far higher carbon emissions along international flights when compared to rival airlines. Which? Travel examined international routes starting from London and found that flying BA can result in between 25 to 45 percent more CO2 emissions compared to their rivals, in four out of the six routes they examined.
A flight to Miami, Florida results in 1130 kilograms of carbon emitted, per passenger, from a BA flight while Virgin Airlines emits 860.9 kilograms, per passenger, for the exact same route. The difference of a round trip to and from Miami between the two carriers, of 544 kilograms of CO2, is enough to power the average UK home for two months, says the magazine.
A shorter flight, such as to Palma de Mallorca, on the Spanish Balearic Islands, also showed serious differences in CO2 emissions. A one way trip with BA performs 50% worse than competitors emitting 160 kilograms of CO2 per passenger, compared to 109.3 kilograms with Ryanair, Jet2 or Tui.
Older and Wider Planes, and Larger Business Class is to Blame
Which? point out that legacy airlines such as BA often have older and wider fleets which can contribute to the problem. Airlines such as BA often carry more business and first-class passengers resulting in a larger carbon footprint per person, because each passenger can afford more space to themselves on the plane.
But they also say that sometimes tactics designed to save money are also responsible. For example, BA often takes on more fuel to avoid the possibility of paying higher prices during routes where they land elsewhere. The extra weight as a result of the extra fuel means that the airline will produce more CO2.
British Airways Accuses Which? of “Shoddy” Research Based on “Out of Date” Info
BA accused Which? of engaging in “shoddy” analysis using “out of date” information. The characterised the consumer magazine as a “for-profit organisation” which is undermining the “conversation about climate change”.
They point out that the carbon emissions data from Flyzen, the carbon monitoring group whose data was used by Which? for their analysis, is “several years out of date”. Flyzen do write on their website "Calculation is based on EMEP/EEA CorinAir 2013 database". The airline says that there have been major developments since 2013 including the delivery of 85 new more fuel efficient aircraft.
The airline criticised Which? saying that the magazine “only looked at 2%” of their flights and that "their paid-for calculations, hidden behind a pay wall, are completely at odds with the figures calculated by the range of airlines they claim to have investigated”.
BA also says its data is in the public domain and shows half of the CO2 emissions per passenger that are attributed to them by Flyzen and suggest that Which? may have incorrectly calculated their data. BA’s carbon emissions data shows that a flight to Miami results in 560 kilograms of CO2 emissions per passenger, and Virgin Atlantic's own data shows 1,060 kilograms of CO2 emissions for a one way flight to Miami from London.
The airline did recognise that there would be more CO2 emitted per passenger compared to “no frills” airlines which don’t have first/business class or offer fewer amenities to customers.
BA’s Accusations are “Outrageous” And “Defamatory”
Which? blasted BA’s accusations as “outrageous”, “defamatory” and “factually incorrect”.
In a reply to Sputnik, the consumer magazine said “Which? is, in fact, a not-for-profit charitable organisation” and that any income they get from commercial activities “goes to fund our charitable work including our research”.
They also pushed back against the idea that their research was “shoddy” saying that there are different ways to calculate how much CO2 is released as a result of flying, “We looked at a number of flight carbon calculators, including those promoted by airlines”.
Finally, Which? addressed BA’s accusation that their data was "several years out of date", noting that “Flyzen have re-confirmed to us that their website labelled the data used as '2013' data but this was, in fact, the most up-to-date 2019 figures”.
“We used the Flyzen calculator because it is impartial and considered a greater variety of factors to accurately estimate the carbon footprints of flights”, they continued.
Which? have sent a legal letter to BA demanding that the airline either issue a correction or a retraction of their statement.