It’s no secret that air travel leaves a negative impact on the environment, but its carbon footprint is still shocking. As of 2020, aviation was responsible for more than 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually. To put it into perspective, aviation accounts for 4.8% of total carbon dioxide emissions within the U.S. and over 2% of all human-induced emissions globally (Ansell & Haran, 2020). 

There have been some efforts to regulate and decrease air travel-related pollution. In 2017, The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set forth standards for international airplane carbon dioxide emissions. And in 2020, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set forth airplane standards to match those of the ICAO. However, the greenhouse gas standards for new type design and in-production airplanes will not come into effect until January of 2028. Once in effect, the new regulations will hopefully decrease 10% of U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of total U.S. emissions (EPA).

The unfortunate reality of air travel is that it remains largely unavoidable, at least for many Middlebury students. Between various school breaks, many out-of-state students take around eight flights to and from Vermont annually. While there are limited opportunities to reduce carbon emissions from air travel, there are two factors to keep in mind as you book your flights. For one, non-stop flights create less pollution than flights with layovers. Also, newer airplanes generally create less pollution due to improved fuel efficiency. While these statements are not universally applicable due to variations among plane models, they remain useful characteristics to look for when traveling (Baumeister 2017). 

This post is not shared with the intention to incite frustration. I know this information initially caused frustration and guilt within myself as I faced the unavoidable reality of air travel. And while flights to and from Middlebury often feel unavoidable, there are opportunities to decrease annual flights. Instead of flying across the country during spring break, consider filling a car with your friends and driving to a regional destination. Or you can do what I did and invite yourself to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving.


Ansell, P. J., & Haran, K. S. (2020). Electrified airplanes: A path to zero-emission air travel. IEEE Electrification Magazine, 8(2), 18–26. 

Baumeister, S. (2017). Each flight is different: Carbon emissions of selected flights in three geographical markets. Transportation Research. Part D: Transport & Environment, 57, 1-9. doi:10.1016/j.trd.2017.08.020.

Environmental Protection Agency. Control of Air Pollution from Airplanes and Airplane Engines: GHG Emission Standards and Test Procedures – Final Rulemaking. EPA. Retrieved September 27, 2021, from