Eco-Crime of the Century?
March 6, 2008 4:00 PM   Subscribe

American Airlines flies plane with 5 passengers from Chicago to London. Friends of the Earth charges Eco-Crime. The airline explains. Climate skeptics are skeptical. (previously)
posted by Xurando (49 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
while I do find this deplorable it should be noted that this does happen all the time. you can find plenty of repositioning flights every day on flightaware and those usually are completely empty. it is not like this is really that extraordinary. another question to be asked is how much cargo the aircraft had to transport.

related discussion
posted by krautland at 4:11 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

The link for "skeptical" doesn't work.

another question to be asked is how much cargo the aircraft had to transport.

The second linked article says it was carrying the full cargo.

I wish the articles would give some context for how common/rare this is.
posted by jejune at 4:13 PM on March 6, 2008

Because of a mechanical malfunction, AA flight 90 was 14 hours late leaving Chicago's O'Hare airport on February 8. Though most passengers made other arrangements to London, five lucky passengers unable to be rebooked made the 6,400 kilometer (4,000 mile) flight in business class, with two crew members per passenger.

American Airlines said it chose to continue with the flight because of the full load of passengers waiting at London's Heathrow airport to return to the United States.

The plane had to fly to London to pick up a load of passengers and fly them where they needed to go. Yeah, BAD AIRLINE! BOOOOHISSSSS, but what else were they supposed to do from a business standpoint? Build another plane in London?
posted by 23skidoo at 4:24 PM on March 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Eco-Crime of the Century

Compared to mining tar sands? Please.
posted by eriko at 4:25 PM on March 6, 2008

So my flight is canceled because they couldn't sell the seats. I hate it when that happens. FOE can bite me. The market basically takes care of this. 99% of the time the situation is not that there are not enough people, but too many. A few of these flights every now and then will not kill the world. Perspective please.
posted by caddis at 4:26 PM on March 6, 2008

I wish I'd been on that flight! Woulda skateboarded up and down the aisles...
posted by Faze at 4:31 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm with Faze. How cool would have it been to be one of the lucky five passengers?
posted by heatherbeth at 4:35 PM on March 6, 2008

Skeptical cat is skeptical.

Sorry, it had to be done. Someone was going to.
posted by Bugg at 4:35 PM on March 6, 2008

This is about the plane being needed in London for the return flight which was probably oversold. If AA kept a 777 in Europe as a spare, it wouldn't happen and would also be handy if there was a problem with the plane that needs repair to keep from happening. But that would cost way more than the occasional deadhead flight.

This happens all the time. AA could probably have avoided the PR problem by putting those 5 people on another flight and just deadheaded the plane over.

When I was on supposed to be on an AA flight from LHR to ORD a few years ago, AA called me and told me the flight was canceled and said I'd be taking BA back.
posted by birdherder at 4:37 PM on March 6, 2008

How cool would have it been to be one of the lucky five passengers?

Well, given that you would have had to sit through an eleven hour delay to get there, I'm thinking not so cool.
posted by ook at 4:41 PM on March 6, 2008

So if AA had flown the same plane, half full, across the Atlantic and then flown it back (again half full) there'd be the same furore, would there?

Well of course not. But hey, averages don't make good news and let you grind your axe hysterically, do they?
posted by Brockles at 4:45 PM on March 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

Stuff like this illustrates a basic disconnect between what people believe themselves willing to do for the environment and what they are actually willing to do. I'm certain that the average Metafilter reader is much more likely than the general populace to consider themselves ecologically aware, to do things like recycle, to drive cars that get higher MPG than average, and to seek out ecologically friendly procuts. I'm also certain that the average Metafilter reader is much more likely than the general populace to have travelled by air, to have travelled extensively by air, and to have taken long or intercontinental airfare.

Guess what? If you travel by air your ecological footprint is gonna be gigantic no matter how many cans you recycle. I'm not saying we shouldn't do the little things; I am saying that we shouldn't pretend that we really care all that much about the environment when we're only willing to do the things that don't really inconvenience us that much.

We care about the environment here. As long as it doesn't mean we can't fly to Hawaii or take a trip to Europe. If that's what it means, well, fuck the whales.
posted by Justinian at 4:47 PM on March 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

Hmmm from my scant reading of the article, it seems the eco "do gooders" weren't aware, the passengers were upgraded to business class. Eco-Crime canceled in my books.
posted by mattoxic at 4:50 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

(Shorter and clearer justinian: Advocating that we help the environment by giving up a lot of cool things is a non-starter.)
posted by Justinian at 4:51 PM on March 6, 2008

Were the five passengers a brain, a beauty, a jock, a criminal, and a basketcase? And, despite their various backgrounds and prejudices, did they come to appreciate each others' perspectives and break free from their preconceptions? Did any of them fall in love?

If so, you can hardly call the flight a waste.
posted by Iridic at 4:58 PM on March 6, 2008 [35 favorites]

Plus 2 crew members for every passenger. That is like 15 people man.

That is insane that the fuel spent on each passenger would be enough for each to drive a car 100,000 miles though.
posted by clearly at 5:06 PM on March 6, 2008

About 15 years ago, I flew from Tulsa to Denver on a 727 with six passengers. Same sort of issue -- they had a full planeload of passengers at Stapleton waiting to go to SFO.

Still... it was weird.
posted by dw at 5:12 PM on March 6, 2008

This problem (flying empty planes around) is something that Richard Branson is attempting to cash in on with his latest venture. He even plays up the "be eco-friendly by flying in an empty leg" angle!
posted by lowlife at 5:22 PM on March 6, 2008

I flew Heathrow to JFK last June on a plane carrying 40 people, plus crew. There were no strikes or delays which caused it.

As I understand it, with scheduled flights, if there's going to be an outgoing flight from London there has to be an incoming one from JFK. On American, the flights have adjacent numbers, like 131/132, 115/116, one incoming, one outgoing. So the plane with 5 people on it had to go back to the US because it was earmarked for a return flight back to London the following day on the schedule.
posted by essexjan at 5:23 PM on March 6, 2008

Perspective please.

Hah! We're all gonna DIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!
posted by tkolar at 5:27 PM on March 6, 2008

Yeah, I've had this one happen before - I flew from Salt Lake City to Seattle on a 727 with about eight people on it. Needless to say, we were all in first class.
posted by deadmessenger at 5:32 PM on March 6, 2008

Well there were a lot more, but they weren't sleeping and just dissappeared. And then one of them went crazy and stabbed another to death. And then another was eaten by gigantic spherical creatures with razor-sharp teeth and no legs. But we tried to fly a full flight... Honest, we did. Damned rifts.
posted by Bugg at 5:32 PM on March 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

Am I just retarded, or was the wording of this FPP really obtuse?

Friends of the Earth charges Eco-Crime.

Who or what is Eco-Crime and with what is it being charged? Maybe a link to Friends of the Earth for a little background\context.

I mean, honestly, this isn't a newspaper headline, feel free to throw in an article or a preposition. And why the hell are you capitalizing Eco-Crime? It's not a proper noun. I guess it could be title case, but even then I think style should be sacrificed for clarity. Unless I'm just stupid, which is certainly possible.

Also, "Eco-Crime [sic] of the Century"? You're being sarcastic, right? How about the fact that most Americans drive around a giant weight (the mass of their car), burning up some of the easiest energy we'll ever get that will one day simply be gone. They don't do this occasionally, or even like 50% of the week, many do it every single day. Add to that that there are so many of us on the streets at any given time that we don't even get a lot of useful work out of the energy being used up, and you've got an eco-crime.
posted by !Jim at 5:47 PM on March 6, 2008

having a baby is a worse eco-crime than this
posted by bhnyc at 5:51 PM on March 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

Upon reading the rest of the article, I'm not done, goddammit. Friends of the Earth in fact did NOT, as far as I can tell "charge Eco-Crime". I suppose you didn't mean that literally, but in fact, FoE made a far more interesting (and far less hysterical) statement. A representative of FoE, Richard Dyer, made the following statement:
Flying virtually empty planes is an obscene waste of fuel. 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.
and added:
Governments must stop granting the aviation industry the unfair privileges that allow this to happen by taxing aviation fuel and including emissions from aviation in international.
See how much more interesting and informative that is than this Eco-Crime malarky? Obviously, that would have been a lot of content to put in the FPP, but you could have at least placed something to that effect in the description to more accurately characterize the position taken by FoE.
posted by !Jim at 5:56 PM on March 6, 2008

If AA kept a 777 in Europe as a spare, it wouldn't happen

whoa. those babies aren't cheap, you know.
we're talking US $200-280 million per unit here, sans seats. you also have to wait quite a while to take delivery. some airlines still have less than they ordered at this point.
posted by krautland at 6:04 PM on March 6, 2008

AxeGrindFilter is not the best of the Web.
posted by oaf at 6:15 PM on March 6, 2008

lame post, but I do agree with Justinian in theory.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:24 PM on March 6, 2008

it's a good post, it's a curious development that people are even noticing something that a few years ago would have been ignored. A sign of change in awareness that will probably eventually lead to a change how things are done.

It's about total air-fleet efficiency. Each day the world has X number of passengers taking Y number of flights - factor in empty seats due to inefficiency, and you have the total carbon per person per airline mile. The empty flights are factored in with the full flights to give the total real cost of carbon. It all comes back to the (forthcoming) carbon tax and how to calculate it, complicated.
posted by stbalbach at 6:33 PM on March 6, 2008

When I was flying a lot in 2002, it was pretty common for me to be the only passenger on the flight from the hub back home. Sometimes there'd be a couple of others. Of course, that was only an hour. Not a flight to London. And it arrived after midnight. A couple of times into Tulsa I was one of two on a 757. Of course, that's because they service them there, so they have to fly them over.

Better than Northwest, who services their DC-9s in a city (Dothan, AL) they don't even have service to, so there are never any passengers whatsoever on those flights.
posted by wierdo at 7:15 PM on March 6, 2008

A good time to link to a very interesting piece on carbon footprints. Executive summary: Calculating footprints is not trivially obvious.
posted by the cydonian at 7:48 PM on March 6, 2008

lame post, but I do agree with Justinian in theory.

I agree with you -- in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory.
posted by Justinian at 7:51 PM on March 6, 2008

This happens to a lesser extent all the time. Airline's position is a valid one, they needed to service London with a plane, they had to get said plane to London anyway, even if it only had 5 people on it.

A couple of years ago I flew from Vancouver to Montreal on an Air Canada 767 that couldn't have had more than about 30 people on it. It was weirdly cool. Everyone had an entire row to themselves, and the drink and food service was quick and plentiful. Best flight I've ever had in economy, for damn sure.
posted by barc0001 at 8:04 PM on March 6, 2008

A taxi drove to my house EMPTY! Luckily, after I got out of the taxi, I got into an over-booked airplane. BTW, the taxi left the airport w/o someone else getting into it.
posted by tomplus2 at 8:28 PM on March 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

In May of 1975, I was coming back to the US from Thailand riding standby on military flights. Having nothing better to do, and the MAC (Military Airlift Command) people assuring me that all the scheduled flights were booked for days in advance (I was then at Clark AFB in the Phillipines), I just hung out all day and all night at the terminal, chatting with the various other people who were there. One of the guys I chatted up at 2 AM happened to be a crew chief on a C-5A, at the time the world's largest airplane. He hooked me up with a ride to Guam on his bird. I was the only passenger on the airplane. It was sort of awesome.
posted by pjern at 8:56 PM on March 6, 2008

So if the plane was full the carbon footprint per passenger would have been considerably less, but it would have burned the same amount of fuel. Big deal. The total carbon burned did not change more than marginally for the decreased weight. AA did nothing wrong.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:09 PM on March 6, 2008

I read in Wired years back that FedEx send not one but two empty planes across America every single night. In case one of their actual delivery planes is unable to fly for some reason one of the empty planes swoops down and picks up their cargo.
posted by PenDevil at 11:38 PM on March 6, 2008

Also the number of near empty flights increases greatly on Christmas Day. I flew from Cape Town to London on Dec 25th four years ago and there were maybe 55 people on the plane (a Boeing 747-400). Everybody in Economy Class had at least three seats to use as a mini bed. The single dude in First Class must have felt like a right idiot though.

I suspect the reason for them flying with so many people is the same reason as this, mainly to bring back to Cape Town the hordes of tourists from London who started their holidays on Dec 26th.
posted by PenDevil at 11:54 PM on March 6, 2008

underground coal fires put more of a carbon footprint into the atmosphere every year than all transportation industries (car, plane, train, etc) combined. where did you see the last protest against that?
posted by Addiction at 12:09 AM on March 7, 2008

"If AA had kept a 777 in London as a spare..." ????

posted by Mike D at 4:28 AM on March 7, 2008

The total carbon burned did not change more than marginally for the decreased weight.

I'd imagine that the fuel difference from that much less weight was certainly noticeable, mind you. I can't guess, as I don't have any numbers here, but I'd wager it was less by a margin large enough to matter.

But then again, the macro focus is the issue. Concentrate on 'per person' and you can find hideous examples somewhere. Look at 'fuel used per person, per year' is a bit more sensible.
posted by Brockles at 4:54 AM on March 7, 2008

The word/phrase/dork-sputter "eco-crime" is, in itself, a far greater crime than any amount of empty planes flying to London, fuck off with that.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:23 AM on March 7, 2008

From John Thackara:
Many of us are confronted by a painful dilemma: we travel to earn money,
and to see loved ones - and yet the only way to reduce the ecological
footprint of flying is to stop flying. I took 78 flights last year,
for example, which must put me in the top one per cent of individual
polluters in the world. I have committed to fly 30 per cent less this
year, and to reduce my flights by 90 per cent within ten years after
that; but this will still leave me open to the valid charge of
hyprocrisy for years to come. So I am very seriously motivated to
explore substitutes for mobility. My search kicks off at a Pixelache
University seminar on "Traveling Without Moving" in Helsinki. My fellow
speakers are Juha Huuskonen, Andreas Zacharia (Carbon Hero), Matt Jones
from Dopplr (remotely) and Danie Peltz (remotely). Saturday 15 March,
Kiasma Theatre, Helsinki 15:00-16:30. Yes, I'm flying there; I promised
Juha I'd be there nine months back - and you're right, that's no excuse.
Read more about Uncanny Valley here. Details of the seminar at Kiasma are here.

Also, Virtual Insanity, from Jamiroquai's Travelling without Moving.. :D (What? That's just where my brain went.)
posted by yoga at 5:40 AM on March 7, 2008

I read that each of the five passengers got to club their own baby seal when they landed in London. That's just not right.
posted by ericbop at 7:03 AM on March 7, 2008

I read that each of the five passengers got to club their own baby seal when they landed in London. That's just not right.

Yeah. With a full load of passengers that would only have been a CBSI of .02 per passenger.

*CBSI Clubbed Baby Seal Imprint
posted by tkolar at 8:50 AM on March 7, 2008

Anyone actually claiming that this particular situation is among the worst of eco-crimes hasn't been paying attention.

However efforts to draw attention to the number of planes that fly empty is probably a good things. I can't think of a better solution for how to deal with getting those planes to where they need to be, but that doesn't mean that there isn't one. And having people be more aware of it might encourage the airlines to come up with ways of operating more efficiently.
posted by quin at 10:37 AM on March 7, 2008

oh what the fuck. this isn't really something to get all riled up about. i'm sure these are the same people who bitch about the fact that every flight they take is overbooked by 5 seats.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:33 PM on March 7, 2008

The average car would have to drive 123,000 miles to clock up the same carbon footprint

I guess I've made the same carbon footprint. Twice over. Probably more than that, because of the exceptionally shitty nature of my previous car.

Also, so has just about everyone I know.

Just remember: the Earth isn't doomed, only humanity.
posted by triolus at 6:08 PM on March 7, 2008

bhnyc: "having a baby is a worse eco-crime than this"

I wonder if there's a way that you can calculate the "net present value" of the carbon emissions that your offspring will create, assuming that they live basically average lives in your socio-economic class and go on to have their own children, &c. My first thought is to say that it'd be infinite, but I wonder if, because the ecosystem is capable of absorbing a certain amount of pollution (carbon and otherwise), if there's an equivalence between a certain amount of immediate pollution and a smaller amount of pollution from now until infinity.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:41 PM on March 7, 2008

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