Which Is Worse: Bad Service Or Bad Emissions?

I’ve been working on some “green” intiatives for a client of mine this week, so this story caught my eye:

British environmentalists say a Chicago-to-London American Airlines flight was “obscene” because it carried only five passengers.
The Feb. 9 flight used 22,000 gallons of fuel to carry the passengers on the trans-Atlantic route, a decision Friends of the Earth said was environmentally irresponsible, The Telegraph reported Wednesday.
“Flying virtually empty planes is an obscene waste of fuel,” said Richard Dyer, Friends of the Earth’s transport activist. “Through no fault of their own, each passenger’s carbon footprint for this flight is about 45 times what it would have been if the plane had been full.”
American Airlines officials said it was forced to cancel one of its four daily fights from Chicago to London. While it was able to place nearly all of the canceled flight’s passengers on other flights, five couldn’t be accommodated.
Then there was the London-to-Chicago flight to consider.
Canceling the flight “would have left a plane load of west-bound passengers stranded at London Heathrow who were due to fly back to the U.S. on the same aircraft,” an airline spokesman said.

This is an interesting dilemma. I have some questions, after the jump:

Is it better to inconvenience 5 passengers or risk the wrath of environmentalists and their PR? Are we going to now be criticial of every incident that seems wasteful or harmful to the environment? Do you think American Airlines did the right thing? Are consumers going to get sick of “green” marketing initiatives or simply stop believing them?
I’d hate to be in the airline industry right now. Seems they can’t win no matter what they do. And if I paid for a ticket to London, then I want to get there ASAP and I wouldn’t worry about my carbon footprint.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. It is quite the dilemma. Not only from a green perspective, but unless those 5 passengers overpaid in the thousands, they lost loads of money on that flight.
    I’d say a better bet would’ve been to throw them on a competitor’s flight and work out some arrangement to reciprocate.
    But I’m sure someone already thought of that.

  2. Mr. G,
    I totally hear you on this, and the topic definitely falls into the grey category. Still, airlines need to watch their offerings and eliminate some that aren’t as populated, in the name of efficiency.
    I hate a full flight as much as the next person, but my commitment to sustainability trumps my very American expectations of convenience. The answer does not begin with this situation of whether to fly these 5 people to ORD or not. It needs to begin much earlier than that.
    We all need a paradigm shift, and if paying attention to our actions and their effects upon our ecosystem is perceived as radical, then that is a great place to begin the shift. Perhaps perceiving ourselves as an integrated PART of every other living system instead of masters of the Earth would be a more healthy viewpoint.
    If we humans aren’t committed to finding sustainable solutions for these pressing questions, my ass and your ass are rowing our asses to London.

  3. Interesting dilemma.
    But I suspect that most of American Airlines customers sympathized with the passengers and their need to get back home.
    (@Yikes: Booking them on a competitor is the FIRST thing American would try and do– they lose money running a 5 person flight.)

  4. You need to look at the long view on this. People are focusing on just that flight, and the 5 people on it. That plane was needed for the next day to come back from London. The crew would be needed for the day after that, and would have had to take up seats on other flights to get there. If AA would have cancelled the flight, stuck it to those 5 folks, and just ferried the plan empty in the cabin, with just the crew, this would have never made the news. Additionally, a major revenue source, especailly on widebody flights, is cargo. My guess is that this plane was packed to the gills with cargo in the belly. No one protests FedEx for doing that. Knee jerk reacting. Really.