climate change

European Airlines Are Operating 18,000 Empty Flights Because of a Dumb Rule

The ‘use it or lose it’ rule means that Lufthansa is using its routes even when it hasn’t sold seats.
A Lufthansa plane without passengers. Photo: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg via Getty Images​
A Lufthansa plane without passengers. Photo: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The airline company Lufthansa will operate 18,000 “empty, unnecessary” flights this winter that would have otherwise been cancelled due to lack of passengers.

The empty flights will run because of rules imposed by the European Union which mean that airlines must use 80 percent of their airport slots. If they don’t, they risk losing their take-off and landing rights to rival carriers.

Brussels Airlines, one of Lufthansa’s subsidiaries, expects 3,000 passenger-less flights by the end of March.


The flights are “empty, unnecessary flights just to secure our landing and take-off rights” according to Carsten Spohr, Lufthansa’s chief executive. 

Belgium’s mobility minister, Georges Gilkinet, has written to the European Commission to demand a law change to stop flights that are “environmental, economic and social nonsense”.

The European Union’s current climate pledge is to cut carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030, and reach climate neutrality by 2030.

The news comes just two months after the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow. Greta Thunberg Tweeted about the news, saying: “The EU surely is in a climate emergency mode…”

In December, The Lufthansa Group announced they had axed 33,000 flights from the winter schedule due to the Omicron variant – the equivalent of 10 percent of its entire network plan. 

They also have their own climate target – similar to the EU, the group aims to halve net CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 2019 and to achieve a neutral CO2 balance by 2050.