There’s no better reminder of our globalized world than an air travel map. Nearly everyone on Earth is connected in some way by the tin cans with wings hurtling at 600 mph overhead, whether it’s the sight and sound a plane overhead, the Amazon package on your doorstep, or a vacation to Rome. Now, all that air travel might have set a new record.
FlightRadar24, a popular website and app that’s been tracking air traffic around the world since 2007, recently recorded its busiest day in air travel ever, likely the busiest the globe has ever seen. The group tallied 202,157 flights last Friday, including commercial jets, cargo flights, and personal planes. That’s the equivalent of 140 planes in the air every minute. This is unabashedly terrible news for the climate and also a mark likely to be broken as the world continues to take to the increasingly crowded skies.
Data from FlightRadar24 show weekdays (which tend to be busier than weekends) in June saw total traffic in the low 190,000s range through the first three weeks of the month, with Fridays generally being the busiest day. The last week in June was busier than other weeks, with June 29th capping a frenetic week.
“The last weeks in June are particularly busy for summer holiday travel in Europe and last Friday was also the Friday before the 4th of July, so U.S. airspace was also very busy,” Ian Petchenik, a media and community relations representative with FlightRadar24, told Earther.
The company tweeted that busiest day of the year is usually in the last week of August, likely because people are going to or from their last summer vacation before school starts up. We may never quite know why air traffic saw a spike recently, but what is clear is that all forms of air traffic are on the rise.
A record-setting 4.1 billion passengers took off in 2017 according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In 1950, there were only a few million travelers in comparison. Year after year, travelers have increased with only a few bumps here and there due to pesky things like the financial meltdown of 2009.
People are also flying further than ever before. In 2017, flyers traveled an estimated 7.7 trillion kilometers (4.8 trillion miles). That’s the equivalent of 10 million trips to the moon and also a shit ton of frequent flyer miles.
Cargo flights also set a record in 2017, with freight-tonne kilometers—ICAO’s standardized measure of cargo traffic—surging 9.5 percent over 2016's record high of just over 200 billion. While all this has resulted in record profits for airlines according to ICAO, the climate has suffered.
The global tourism industry alone has a massive carbon footprint, emitting up to 4.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to a recent study. The findings account not just for jet setters going to and fro, but also all the bric-a-brac, food, and other supplies that make their jaunts possible. When you add it all up, tourism carbon emissions are more than three times greater than all of Brazil. UPS two-day air delivery and other forms of freight traffic only add to our planetary woes.
Airlines are working on creating bio jet fuels and streamlining planes in ways that will reduce the carbon intensity of their flights. But in the meantime, the planet will thank you if you can drive (even better, hop a train or bike) to your next vacation.