British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are facing an official legal complaint over what one climate charity has described as ‘misleading’ environmental claims, with fears that consumers could be led to believe that choosing these airlines could be a ‘guilt-free’ way to fly without having an impact on the environment.
Climate charity Possible has teamed up with legal firm Leigh Day to lodge a formal complaint via the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, claiming that BA and Virgin Atlantic have breached international business guidelines.
Leigh Day says British Airways has claimed to be “driving urgent action towards net zero emissions” and has painted an aircraft in a special blue sustainability livery to symbolise the efforts it is taking to reduce greenhouse emissions.
British Airways is one of many airlines to have committed to achieving ‘net zero’, and the airline says it has a clear roadmap to reach this goal by 2050 but analysis by Possible suggests that BA’s emissions produced by jet fuel increased year on year in the four years preceding the pandemic.
Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, boasts that it’s on a ‘Mission to Net Zero’, although the airline fails to admit that it has so far failed to meet its own emissions targets.
The airline did, however, make headlines earlier this week after it became the first commercial passenger airline to fly an airplane across the Atlantic fueled entirely by Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).
Possible filed its complaint before Virgin Atlantic’s historic 100% SAF flight but even so, the charity claims that the possible emissions reductions from SAF are overstated by the airline industry.
Alethea Warrington, senior campaigner at climate charity Possible, says the only realistic way for airlines to effectively reduce emissions is to cut back on flights.
“The reality is that technologies for cleaner flight either don’t exist yet, or don’t work,” Warrington commented this week. “We think that airlines’ misleading claims about their emissions are unfair on people who want to do the right thing when they travel. It’s time for airlines to start being honest about their sky-high emissions.”
Possible wants the UK to reduce the current level of flying by 36%, saying that is the only way to reach the government’s climate change pledges.
Airlines are increasingly being called out for so-called ‘greenwashing’ with several carriers being reprimanded by regulators for making misleading claims over their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Earlier this year, Austrian Airlines was ordered to post a court judgement on its website after it was found to have made highly inflated claims of operating a CO₂ neutral flight using ‘100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel’.
The Vienna-based carrier appeared to advertise it was selling tickets on a flight which would be using 100% SAF, but passengers were simply booking a ‘sustainability option’ at a mark up of an additional 50% of the regular ticket price.
This extra fee would then be used by Austrian Airlines to purchase SAF at a later date for future flights and not for the advertised CO₂ neutral flight.
Other airlines to have fallen foul of regulators over inflated sustainability claims include Lufthansa and Etihad.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.