Travellers anxious to display their green credentials can now do so when booking flights across the globe.
Online agent Lastminute has teamed up with carbon offsetting organisation Climate Care. The booking pages on Lastminute's UK site now display how much each passenger needs to contribute to offset his or her CO2 emissions for any particular flight.
The contributions are voluntary and examples typically include 92 pence for a return flight between Bristol and Paris or £10.78 for a return flight from London to Bangkok. They even take into consideration the higher C02 emitted when flying indirectly. For example, when flying London-Amsterdam-Bangkok return with KLM your C02 fee increases to £12.12.
The scheme was launched last Monday and it's too soon to say how many people have contributed. But feedback from British Airways, which instigated a similar voluntary scheme with Climate Care a year ago, suggests only a handful of passengers will bother.
Says a BA spokesperson, "The take-up is under 1 per cent although it has shown a gradual increase over time."
But maybe BA's take-up has been low because the Climate Care link is hard to spot ? "I agree that visibility is an issue," says BA, "And we are looking at ways to increase this. But as an awareness [for Climate Care] the results have been good. Climate Care tells us that since we started to show this organisation on our website its hits have gone up 20 fold."
One selling point, though, is that BA's scheme convers its passenger in every country served by the airline. And payment can be in a variety of currencies.
Lastminute's scheme covers flights by BA and many others. Says a spokesperson, "Research by Carbon Trust (a government-backed body) showed that two-thirds of customers want to know their carbon footprint. We sell flights with 300 airlines so passengers can offset regardless of whom they are travelling with."
Now the all-business class airline Silverjet has followed suit. When it starts flying on January 25 between Luton and New York, passengers will pay a mandatory sum of between £10 and £20 for every return trip. The scheme is being set up with Carbon Neutral and will be included in the ticket price.
Says chief executive Lawrence Hunt, "We are the first airline in the world to have its flights carbon neutral.The important thing is the carbon neutral offset is included as a mandatory item – this is the real difference to what the others are doing."
But when researching this news piece I came across a whole range of issues that need airing. Should "green" Silverjet, for example, be promoting airport limousine and helicopter transfers to its passengers ? Silverjet says its fee is worked out on the basis of its average load factor. But the airline has yet to fly. Who knows how many passengers its flights will carry ?
Then there's the fact that Climate Care's C02 figures are sourced from the Oxford-based Environmental Change Institute and calculated using B737 jets on short flights and four-engined B747s and A340s on longer routes.
So are passengers are paying over the odds if they choose to fly with an environmentally friendly aircraft like a twin-engined B777 or Q-400 turbo prop which emit less C02 per seat?
A spokesperson for Climate Care says that there's a whole range of factors which must be considered before CO2 can be calculated. "At present we need to make certain assumptions because for an accurate analysis the airline would need to tell us its fuel uplift and its load factor (both for passengers and freight)." (And for commercial reasons no airline is yet willing to provide such information.). The spokesperson continued, "This is the best we can do at the present time. But as more and more people get interested we would imagine we will be able to produce more accurate figures."
The initiative is to be applauded, but it does not stand up to much examination, for consider:
· A Lastminute passenger booking Flybe's Q-400 turbo-prop (which emits 50 per cent less C02 than a jet) between Exeter and Paris would the same fee as if he or she were taking a thirstier and much larger B737 on a similar length route.
· Someone choosing Eva Air (which operates new B777-300ERs) to Bangkok will pay the same as if taking older and less fuel efficient B747s of BA and Thai.
· On London-New York Lastminute passengers are asked to contribute £10.78 irrespective of whether they choose to book a 48-seater all business class B757 from Stansted with Eos or an economy class seat on one of BA's 400-seater B747s from Heathrow. No prizes for guessing which is the greener of the two.
For more information go to www.lastminute.com, www.ba.com/environment, www.climatecare.org, www.flysilverjet.com
Report by Alex McWhirter