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What Is Going on with Ghost Flights and Why Should We Care?

All over the United States and throughout Europe, planes are taking off and landing without passengers. They are doing this because it’s the only way for them to keep their slots with airports. According to Bloomberg,

“The custom stems from the way airports manage their limited runway capacity. More than 200 of the world’s busiest airports allocate specific time slots to airlines, which often pay top dollar for them. To manage demand, airlines are required to use their slots at least 80 percent of the time, or risk losing them to a competitor.”

So this is not necessarily a new practice, but because the pandemic slowed flights so severely, it caused a lot of additional ghost flights. And while the 80% rule was reduced to 50% during the pandemic, it is headed back up again – reaching 64% in March in the EU even as countries are still struggling with Omicron.

The Climate Impact

The Guardian has a calculator that determines the climate impact of each flight. For example, a flight from JFK to LAX produces 697 kg CO2. When you calculate all of the other components that go into making the flight happen, an additional 1,304 kg CO2 is produced. That’s more than three times the amount of CO2 generated by a human in an entire year. To produce this kind if CO2 solely for the purpose of holding a spot for future flights seems a practice that needs to be reconsidered.

The Cost to the Event and Travel Industries

The CEO of Germany’s airline, Lufthansa, admitted to 18,000 ghost flights over the winter. Georges Gilkinet, mobility minister in Belgium, called ghost flights “environmental, economic and social nonsense.” But all of us in the travel, entertainment, and event industries should be quite perturbed by this practice. The airlines are not absorbing this cost themselves. That means the cost of all of the ghost flights – which some experts are estimated number more than a million a year – are being passed on to consumers.

Is It Time for a Change?

Companies and brands who aren’t willing to entertain new ways of doing things will lose in more ways than one. The pressure is on. As Millennials and GenZ take over as the largest consumer groups, sustainability will be a key issue – whether they’re buying from you or working for you. I am not sure what the answer should be. But I do know that consumers are looking to the travel and hospitality industries to be leaders and take major actions for climate and sustainability.

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