With improvements in both automobile and airplanes with regards to energy efficiency, depending on circumstances, it might just be better to fly than drive to your next vacation destination.
According to this link, driving today is considered to be more energy intensive than flying; defining energy intensity as ‘the amount of energy needed to transport one person a given distance.’ So, yes, technically speaking since an airplane transports so many more people than a car, it is less harmful proportionally to the environment.
Michael Sivak found that, in 2012, the energy intensity of driving a vehicle was 4, 211 BTU per person mile, whereas flying domestically was 2,033 BTU per person mile.
Let’s put this in terms we can all understand:
1 BTU = 1,055.0558 joules
[(4211 BTU)/(person∙mile) x (1055.05585 joules)/(1 BTU)] = 4,442,840.184 joules per person∙mile
[(4211 BTU)/(person∙mile) x (1055.05585 joules)/(1 BTU)] =4,442,840.184 joules per person∙mile
*Note that a 100 watt incandescent light bulb uses 360,000.0 joules in an hour- just so you have something to reference.
[(airplane/vehicle)] = [(2033 BTU per person per mile)/(4211 BTU per person per mile)] = 0.48 which is about 0.50 = (1/2)
The energy intensive per person per mile of an airplane is half of that of a car.
Does this mean flying is always going to be more energy efficient? definitely not, but this goes to show that flying isn’t as horrible for the environment that we once all believed. Next time you think about traveling, think about how many people you’re going to be traveling with, with gas mileage the car you will be taking has per gallon, and compare that to if you were to fly. But don’t forget to factor in your own personal comfort!