Corporate TravelAn industry expert explains the business — and climate — case for adopting a business class air policy.

Why we should fly business class

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Having done the math on carbon emissions and travel budgets, tClara's Scott Gillespie says the policy makes the biggest impact on carbon emissions by managing demand and forcing prioritisation of high-value trips.
Having done the math on carbon emissions and travel budgets, tClara's Scott Gillespie says the policy makes the biggest impact on carbon emissions by managing demand and forcing prioritisation of high-value trips. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Diversity Studio

Goals shape most every corporate decision, so we must be clear about our goals for travelling. The most obvious travel goal is to earn a positive payback on the traveller’s time, the cost of the trip, and the harm done to the climate. In short, the goal is to take justifiable trips.

Let’s assume for a moment that our main goal is to reduce airline-related emissions from our travel programmes. We must now rethink our cabin travel policy, as this is the single-most important factor in a travel programme’s ability to help achieve lower carbon emissions.

On the climate front [for travel goals], it must be to reduce overall emissions, not emissions per passenger. An economy class policy does not reduce overall emissions; a business class policy does.– Scott Gillespie, tClara LLC

The traditional assumption is that flying in economy is least harmful for the climate. I promoted this belief back in 2007 when I led the development of TRX’s ground-breaking airline carbon emission model. The TRX model allocated three times as much CO2 to a business class seat compared to an economy seat because the floor space of the business class seat was three times bigger.

Business class seats do take up about three times the floor space of the typical economy seat. But it is not floor space that matters, it is weight. It is the marginal weight of the seats, the passengers and their luggage that matters. Why? Because the plane’s operating empty weight, cargo weight and fuel load are the same, excluding the weight of the passengers, their luggage and their seats. The key is recognising that a business class seat displaces not one but three to four economy seats, depending on the cabin configurations.

Imagine an airline’s decision to make room for one more business class seat on a flight by removing three economy seats. The weight of the business class seat and its one passenger with luggage is about half the weight of the three economy seats and their three passengers with luggage. This means the flight needs marginally less fuel, not more, so the flight now emits marginally less CO2 than it would if the flight had been configured and sold with three economy seats. The same fuel-reduction conclusion holds for first class seats.

The much bigger benefit of flying business class, however, is simple supply-and-demand economics. Business class fares are much more expensive than economy fares. The higher the fare, the fewer number of trips that can be taken from the travel budget. So long as business class fares are more than three times the price of an economy fare, our travel budgets will produce significantly fewer emissions than if our budgets were used on economy fares.

Let’s come back to our goals for travelling. On the climate front, it must be to reduce overall emissions, not emissions per passenger. An economy class policy does not reduce overall emissions; a business class policy does.

If our primary goal is to enable more successful trips, protect traveller health, safety and well-being, and strengthen the recruiting and retention of travellers, then a business class cabin policy is the obvious choice on this front.

The days of trying to squeeze the greatest number of trips out of a travel budget are gone. We face new constraints and expectations on climate concerns, travel budgets and traveller well-being. Lower-value trips can’t be justified. We need our travelers to succeed on their higher-value justifiable trips. A business class policy for all travellers scores goals on all of today’s most important fronts.

Source: Business Travel News



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