Greenopia Updates Airline Ratings; Virgin America Earns Highest Marks

Virgin America topped the updated list of Greenopia's environmental ratings of 10 of the biggest commercial airlines operating domestic flights across the United States.

Air travel in general has come under strict scrutiny because of the magnitude of emissions associated with it. Complicating the discussion is the notion of radiative forcing index, which states that emissions at higher altitudes could have a different impact than those at ground level.

"It's a dilemma," commented Gay Browne, founder of Greenopia. "People are going to travel, whatever method they choose will impact the planet. Our readers want to know how to get to their destination with the smallest environmental footprint, especially if they are boarding a jumbo jet."

Greenopia collected data from airline annual reports and other publicly disclosed documents and measured the data against stringent environmental criteria. The criteria included fleet age, fuel consumption practices, carbon offsets, green building design, recycling programs, and organic, local and sustainable food items available onboard. Lastly a life-cycle weighting by environmental impact of each criterion determined the rankings.

“It’s not always clear which method of transportation is the most environmentally-friendly,” said Doug Mazeffa, research director of Greenopia. “Depending on the occupancy, distance, and vehicle class, sometimes it’s more environmentally efficient to take a plane, other times it can be mass transit, and sometimes it can just be carpooling.”

The rankings of the 10 airlines are:

  • Four leaves: Virgin;
  • Three leaves: Alaska Airlines, Continental;
  • Two leaves: Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest;
  • One leaf: American, Northwest, United, and US Airways.