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Flights are going to cost you more because of climate change

Another consequence of climate change: You can expect your plane ticket to cost more.

As the air heats up, it becomes less dense, and thinner air means an airplane wing generates less lift. A Columbia University Earth Institute study titled “The impacts of rising temperatures on aircraft takeoff performance” suggests that airlines will have to limit passengers, cargo and fuel to take off during certain hours. And that raises costs.


During the hottest parts of the day, between 10 percent and 30 percent of flights will have to adjust their weight limits or else wait for cooler temperatures in order to be able to take off. With fewer seats on flights, and increasing demand for air travel, costs are predicted to rise. Turbulence will increase, too, as temperatures increase along flight paths.

“Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airline and impact aviation operations around the world,” said Columbia University Ph.D. student Ethan Coffel, the lead author of the study.

Another recent study, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, suggested that global warming has already contributed to longer flight paths and turbulence — resulting in the burning of up to a billion extra pounds of fuel.

The airline industry contributes enormously to global warming itself. If commercial aviation were a country, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, it would be the seventh-largest carbon polluter. The industry contributes about 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

And the industry is growing incredibly quickly. According to industry estimates, 38.4 million flights are expected to take off in 2017, up almost 5 percent from 2016. And 18,429 pairs of cities are connected by direct flights, almost twice as many as there were 20 years ago. On current trends, carbon emissions from commercial aviation will triple by 2050.

Global temperatures have already risen more than 1 degree Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and is projected to rise close to 4 degrees above by the end of the century, assuming we continue to use carbon-based fuels as we have been.

It’s starting already. Last month it was so hot in Phoenix — hitting a record-breaking 119 degrees Fahrenheit on June 20 — that American Airlines canceled 50 flights.