About Google Flight’s New CO2 Display

Google Flights now displays a carbon emission (CO2) estimate for most flights.

Folks, this is a game changer because it brings flight-related emissions data to the shopping table on a scale that reaches millions of flight shoppers.

Google Flight display for Seattle to London, one way on Nov.1st 2021

Not only is Google Flight’s CO2 data credible and easy to understand, it is easy to see which flight is better or worse, and by how much. This has big implications, namely:

  • Leisure and unmanaged business travelers will become accustomed to seeing this data. Many will use it to select their flights, making CO2 data part of the “consumer experience”.
  • Business travelers who shop first on Google Flights before booking in the OBT/TMC channel will get used to seeing this data. Many will use it to select their flights.
  • Travel managers will be expected by travelers and their executives to provide booking tools that provide flight-specific CO2 data.
    • This will create a standards problem, unless the booking tools use the same CO2 model as does Google Flights. More on this below.
  • Airlines will feel pressure to improve their CO2 metrics as they appear in Google Flights, especially if Google is successful at making its CO2 model a free resource to others, as it says it plans to do.
  • Unfortunately, it will reinforce the belief that premium seats, e.g., business class, should be allocated more CO2 per passenger than economy seats. This belief is wrong, and leads to more flight emissions, not less.

Insights About Google Flight’s CO2 model

Google’s CO2 model calculations are based on the European Environmental Agency (EEA) framework 3.1a, published in 2019, and some of its related data sources, including the BADA flight emissions model, which may use 2016 aircraft and engine data. The EEA framework is described here. Google apparently uses the Tier 3A approach, described on page 25. Google also uses data from other sources, including those from airlines and other sources to obtain the aircraft models and seating configurations.

Some things that caught my eye about Google’s approach:

More connections don’t necessarily mean more emissions. Note in the exhibit above that a 2-stop flight (circled in blue) has less emissions than the one-stop flight below it.

There seems to be no adjustment made for a flight’s passenger load factor or cargo weight, nor for the actual in-flight routing or actual gate-to-gate time. Factoring in these variables would make the model more accurate, IF the model was given each flight’s actual data. This data is practically impossible to get pre-flight. Other flight CO2 models may include these variables by making good-faith estimates, but they are still estimates, and probably a good example of providing false precision. Google’s approach is good enough.

That said, Google uses a traditional method for allocating more CO2 to premium economy, business and first class seats, based on the square footage of these types of seats. I’ll take another tilt at the windmill by saying again this is fundamentally wrong, and harmful to the climate.

Moving on. A flight’s emissions are shown as better or worse based on the other flights’ emissions for the same O&D, the same route, and the same cabin, and the same day(s) of travel. If a flight’s emissions are within 5%, plus or minus, of the median emission value, it is marked as “average”. Users can sort the itineraries based on CO2, so it makes it easy to pick the least-emitting flight.

Google says it plans to make its model available to the travel industry for free via the Travelyst coalition. It would be even better if Google published an API tomorrow to let anyone consume their calculations. The quicker the travel industry coalesces around flight and hotel CO2 calculation methods, the better. Until then, expect travelers to be confused about seeing significantly different emission estimates for the same flight. Confusion leads quickly to distrust, which is not what we want on this issue.

Innovation Opportunities

A few quick thoughts on how this platform could be put to even better use:

  • Change the basis of allocating CO2 from the seat’s size, to the amount of CO2 emitted for the weight of the seat, its passenger and the passenger’s luggage, per square foot.
  • Publish an API so anyone could consume these calculations (as mentioned above).
  • Integrate this CO2 data into your corporate booking tool.
  • Use the API and your TMC’s historical booking data for your program to set a 2019 baseline of flight emissions. Better, have the bright folks at Thrust Carbon or eco.mio do the heavy lifting, and enable ways to make offsetting easy and ethical.
  • Update the analytical modeling to use more current data on engine emissions.
  • For those concerned about the accuracy of the CO2 estimates, lobby for the airlines to publish for every flight the
    • Amount of fuel consumed;
    • Cargo weight;
    • Passenger and baggage weight;
    • Passenger load factor (wishful thinking).

Flight emissions will only grow in importance. It’s good to see Google enabling better decisions on this front.

Why We Need To Fly Business Class

If your company is committed to reducing its airline-related carbon emissions, you need to start by re-thinking your cabin policy. This is the single-most important factor in a travel program’s impact on travel-related emissions.

It turns out that flying business class is better for the climate than flying economy class. Hard to believe, right? I was guilty of promoting the business-class is-bad belief back in 2007 when I led the development of TRX’s groundbreaking airline carbon emissions model. Chalk it up to some lazy thinking on my part, and please accept my apologies.

I make the new case why we need to fly business class in this Op-Ed at Business Travel News: https://www.businesstravelnews.com/Management/Why-We-Need-to-Fly-Business-Class

Yes, the optics of adopting a business class cabin policy will be tough to overcome, but if your company is serious about reducing its airline-related emissions, it is the right way to go. Comments welcome here and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6830486638385233920/

Lower Costs and Successful Trips Matter Most

“Which of these four travel-related goals is most important to your senior management?”

The answer?  Lower travel costs is the most important goal, while more successful trips came in a very close second, according to the survey tClara just ran.

If you group the three non-cost goals into something like “Travel Impact Goals”, you see that this group gets a total of 58% of the top goal choices.  So while lower costs may have squeaked out a first-place finish, I’d say that cost takes a back seat to business impact.

I’ll go further by wondering how many travel buyers really, truly know their senior management’s top travel-related goal. Continue reading

Webinar: Building the Case for Better Travel

Wow.  This article that challenges the importance of savings is one of the most popular ones I’ve ever written.

Still, the question is can you really afford to focus on the benefits of travel, rather than on the cost?

The good folks at Prime Services and I will show how build a business case for better travel using my Travel Policy Impact model. We’ll walk through the data you need and the assumptions you have to make, and show the ROI as we go.

You’ll see how easy it is to estimate the costs, and how to make reasonable assumptions about the benefits.  Travel Policy Impact 101, here we come!

The webinar starts at 1:30 pm EDT on Thursday, March 15th.  You can register for your free seat here. I hope you’ll join us.

Prime Services is a division of Prime Numbers Technology.  Kate Saab and Robin Carter will co-host this session with me. You can download the Travel Policy Impact model and the User’s Guide from within this post.

Making the Business Case for Better Travel

The most common question I get after speaking about the benefits of reducing traveler friction is “OK, we get the idea, but how are we supposed to sell this to senior management?”

Here’s the answer:

The whole idea is to balance the costs and the benefits of better business travel, right?  So that means we need a way to quantify those things, in a way that makes sense to senior management.

The good news is that there is now enough research out there to help us frame the question with some clear logic and pretty good assumptions.

Gillespie’s Travel Policy Impact Model

I’ve developed a simple – and free – approach that any travel buyer can put to work right away. It’s an Excel model (see below) that asks you to fill in 16 things.  Do that, and you’ll see the results. Your results could look like this:

“If we spend an extra $35K per road warrior to give them better quality, lower-friction trips, we’ll get back a net gain of $90K each, for an ROI of about 260%”

Credibility Is Key

Travel managers,  you’ll be able to plug 10 of the 16 data things into the Cost section pretty much off the top of your heads.  You’ll probably need help with the 6 things in the Benefits section. Continue reading

A Challenge To My Travel Procurement Friends

 Is it time to think about your category goals for 2018?  Yep.

Are you hoping to somehow increase the size of your savings next year?  Of course.   Are you optimistic about meeting that goal?  Probably not.

Would you like to show senior management that you’re adding significant strategic value to the travel category? That your approach is fundamentally aligned with the needs of the business?  Therein lies my challenge.

For the last 20 years, travel procurement has measured its success by the size of its savings. Travel procurement takes the path of least resistance, happy to measure what’s easiest – ticket prices, room rates, TMC transaction fees, and the all-important discount.

This traditional cost-focused goal is no longer sufficient.  It’s not strategic, and it isn’t sustainable. Travel procurement needs a bigger, bolder goal.

Step 1: Understand The Cost of Traveler Friction

Continue reading

A Big Win No One Is Talking About

http://www.sweetthreadsdesign.com/blog/welcome-home-front-door-spring-decorTwo years ago I wrote that travel managers face two paths.

One path is to keep doing what you do today: jumping through endless supplier meetings, putting out fires around traveler service issues, continually hacking away towards inbox zero… In short, doing all those things that add short-term tactical value.

The other path leads to adding higher, more strategic value by focusing on travel’s broader business impact. I’ll preach about taking this path at GBTA in Boston on July 17th.

One area along this path that I think is rife with opportunity is non-employee travel. Think recruiting trips for on-site interviews, new-hire training, or guest visits such as speakers, partners, or customers.

Most all the current corporate travel tools and systems were built for current employees. If you worry that your own travelers don’t enjoy that experience, how do you think your non-employee travelers feel? Continue reading

Let’s Buy Less Effective Trips!

Travel Programs Insights cover pageSaid no one, ever.

Imagine giving management a choice between these two travel programs: “Nickels and Dimes” and “Goldmine”.

In the Nickels and Dimes program, they get travelers who are more burned out, more likely to quit, have less productivity, report higher rates of sickness, are less willing to travel, and for the kicker, produce 22% less effective trips.

In the Goldmine program, they get the opposite – happier, healthier, more productive travelers who are more willing to travel and – pay attention – produce more effective trips.

Of course the Goldmine program is going to be more expensive.  Just like an iPhone is more expensive than a cheap flip phone…you get what you pay for.

And yet travel managers Continue reading

GBT’s Non-GDS Charge Makes Sense

Shopping Cart IconBuyers have a new distribution dilemma.

American Express GBT is phasing in a $10 surcharge for handling airline tickets from carriers who don’t use common industry channels for sales and settlement. (More coverage herehere and here.)

Think of this as the opposite of the €16 surcharge that Lufthansa Group is applying to tickets purchased via the traditional GDS/TMC channel. One happens if you buy in the GDS, the other happens if your LCC airline doesn’t play there.

Both of these surcharges annoy buyers. “What – you’re going to charge me more based on where I buy a ticket, or who I buy it from – that’s outrageous!”

In fact, it makes perfect sense.  Lufthansa and GBT make the same point – their costs to Continue reading

Relationship Advice for Road Warriors

Surely a ton of travel creates unique strains for road warriors and their families.

Fortunately, these problems are fairly predictable, and can be managed with a bit of planning, effort and honest communication.  If you know a road warrior or two, read on, as they may well benefit from the sage advice from Megan Bearce, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, and wife of a road warrior.

I connected with Megan on the issue of traveler friction, something she knows well, especially as it impacts couples and families.  She’s written a terrific book on this subject, and offers the following practical advice.

SuperCommuter CouplesA Guest Post From Megan Bearce:

I am happy to report that whether you are a road warrior or a “super commuter,” (employees who travels 90 miles or more to their job), physical separation doesn’t have to mean emotional distance.  Below are three strategies from my book, Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When A Job Keeps You Apart, to help your relationship thrive despite being apart.

1) Coming home:

People assume that reuniting after days on the road would be exciting, but in reality this Continue reading