An Impending Threat to Air Travel
Flying gets worse than crappy snacks and terminally snarky flight attendants.
I am writing this while sitting in the airport, courageously struggling through a 6-hour flight delay after roasting on the tarmac for two hours.
The reason? No, the airlines weren't incompetent; they meant well. No, it wasn’t a mechanical issue. No, it wasn't the weather, at least not in the way we typically think of weather delays. Nor was it the too-cute-by-half flight attendant from Southwest trying out bits of his half-hour for the comedy club.
It was a bizarre line of crazy thunderstorms—partially attributable to climate change.
No, wait, stick with me here.
If you understand the science behind it, you'd know that weather is akin to the planet’s mood, but the climate? That's the planet’s true personality. Like anyone dealing with a moody friend, we're currently experiencing the repercussions of our planet going through some things.
The effects of climate change can be seen in almost every aspect of our lives, from extreme weather events to rising sea levels, to our health and the economies of nations. One area that often goes under the radar when discussing the impact of climate change is air travel.
Climate change is already wreaking havoc on air travel, and experts predict that this situation will only get worse in the coming years. Nobody is immune. So, let’s heed the boarding call to crummy flights.
Here are some ways climate change will make air travel more miserable.
Flight Delays and Cancellations
The increase in severe weather events associated with climate change can lead to an uptick in flight delays and cancellations. Storms, snow, high winds, and other extreme weather conditions frequently disrupt air travel schedules. As climate change intensifies, we can expect these occurrences to become even more common, causing increasing frustration for travelers and substantial economic losses for airlines.
Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of in-flight turbulence. A study published in the journal "Nature Climate Change" suggests that the odds of moderate to severe turbulence could increase by 149% due to climate change. The cause lies in changing wind patterns and more unstable atmospheric conditions, driven by the warming climate. This turbulence not only makes for uncomfortable flights but could also pose a safety risk for passengers and crew.
Rising Sea Levels
Many of the world's major airports are located near coastlines. As climate change fuels the rise in sea levels, these airports are under threat. For example, Miami International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the U.S., sits just a few feet above sea level, making it vulnerable to future sea-level rise. Flooding and other damage from encroaching waters could disrupt operations, necessitating costly repairs and mitigation strategies, the costs of which will likely be passed on to travelers.
Airplanes require certain conditions to take off safely, and extreme heat is not one of them. As global temperatures rise, there will be more "too hot to fly" days. The physics of aviation dictate that warmer, thinner air makes it harder for planes to generate lift, necessitating longer runways or lighter loads. This issue can lead to flight delays, cancellations, and even weight restrictions impacting baggage and passenger limits.
Carbon Emissions Taxes
To combat climate change, many countries are considering implementing or have already implemented a carbon tax, which levies fees on the production, distribution, or use of fossil fuels. As the airline industry is a significant contributor to global CO2 emissions, it's likely to be heavily affected by such taxes. These additional costs could be—oh, let’s top kidding ourselves—WILL be transferred to passengers in the form of higher ticket prices, making air travel less affordable.
Increasing Health Risks
Lastly, climate change can exacerbate certain health risks associated with travel. As global temperatures change, they could expand the habitats of disease-carrying insects, exposing travelers to a higher risk of diseases such as Zika or Dengue fever. Moreover, the increased frequency of wildfires due to climate change could also reduce air quality in certain regions, posing potential health risks to travelers.
Friends, like it or not, believe it or not: climate change is expected to have a profound impact on air travel. As the world continues to grapple with the repercussions of our changing climate, it's clear that the way we travel will need to adapt. Sustainable alternatives to traditional aviation fuels, better airport infrastructure, and increased funding for climate change research are just a few of the potential solutions, but it's clear that the industry - and travelers - will face significant challenges in the years to come.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but climate change will reach each and every one of us—even in first class.
The Silver Lining
If there's a silver lining to these clouds, it's that these stark realities further highlight the urgent need for us to reduce our carbon footprints and collectively work toward solutions to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. So, the next time you book a flight, consider the wider implications, and what you can do to help.
Or make sure you bring plenty of water, reading materials, snacks, and patience on your next flight.
And earplugs when the flight attendant tries out his new set.
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