Air travel may be one of the worst culprits when it comes to carbon emissions, but it doesn’t have to be all bad news. In Costa Rica, NatureAir is the world’s very first airline to offset their carbon emissions 100%.
Up until this time, air travel has attempted to balance out its environmental impact with things like the carbon offset programs of many major airlines, and organizations like Terra Pass and Carbon Fund that allow travelers to purchase carbon offsets for the emissions caused by travel.
Now NatureAir is compensating for 100% of their emissions. In a way, it comes as no surprise that such a thing started in a place like Costa Rica; that country already has announced plans to become the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2021, and is already the greenest, happiest country on the planet. It has a huge dedication to wildlife and national park preservation, and employs a lot of environmentally sustainable measures like wind turbines, hydropower and other renewable energy sources that generate more than 3/4 of the country’s electricity.
So how does NatureAir make itself carbon neutral? In 2004, it became the first airline to compensate for 100% of its carbon emissions from flight operations. They do this through a local compensation program, that supports reforestation and conservation programs in Costa Rica. Granted, NatureAir is a small airline with small airplanes. These are not jumbo jets flying halfway across the world or anything.
You might think their ticket prices would be much higher due to the carbon offsets, but that’s not the case. For example, on 10/8/13 I looked up an example flight on NatureAir and Sansa Regional, the country’s domestic airline:
One way from San Jose (SJO) to Quepos/Manuel Antonio
10/29/13 (a Tuesday)
NatureAir returned prices from $34 for their Loco fare, to $74 for their full Flex fare. Sansa gave me prices of $28-50. NatureAir operates on three fare categories: Loco, Promo and Flex. These offer different fares pretty much based on how much baggage allowance you want to have. The Loco is the cheapest, and you’re allowed 15 pounds of baggage. Promo gets you 27 pounds at a slightly higher fare, and Flex is the most expensive with a 40 pound baggage allowance. If you purchase a lower fare and then your baggage weighs more than the limit, you can pay for the excess weight at check-in.
NatureAir flies to more than a dozen locations within Costa Rica, and also goes to Managua, Nicaragua and Bocas del Toro, Panama.
I tried out the airlines on two flights on a recent trip I took to Costa Rica, in August 2013. I booked two one-way flights with NatureAir: from Quepos to Tamarindo and then from Tamarindo to San Jose. The small airports and check-in process were simple and easy, with very friendly and helpful agents. The small passenger group was herded out onto the runway when flight time came, where the pilots and propeller planes awaited.
The flights were very nice, with the beautiful vistas that come with taking a small, low-flying plane over an astonishingly beautiful country like Costa Rica. I would highly recommend NatureAir to anyone traveling in Costa Rica or its bordering countries. What a fun way to travel, inexpensive and best of all – carbon neutral!