Austria’s flag carrier, Austrian Airlines has recently found itself in hot water after being forced to admit that it had misled travelers with its green SAF advertising campaign.
In late 2021 the airline announced a partnership with Austrian energy company OMV Group. The two parties claimed that Austrian Airline’s flights were to use “100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)”. However, it was later revealed that this statement was not entirely accurate.
Legal action by VKI
The Austrian Consumer Information Association (VKI) took legal action against the airline, filing a lawsuit for violating the Austrian Federal Act Against Unfair Competition.
The VKI accused the airline of engaging in “greenwashing” – a term used to describe misleading environmental claims.
The Korneuburg Regional Court argued that Austrian Airlines’ promotion of 100% SAF flights on its social media channels was “misleading” and aimed at luring environmentally-conscious travelers.
The controversy arose in relation to the Venice Biennale, an annual cultural exhibition held in Venice, Italy. Austrian Airlines had been promoting its sustainable flights between Vienna Airport (VIE) and Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE), with claims said flights were entirely powered by SAF.
100% SAF “not technically possible”
However, a court ruling determined that it was “not technically possible for the airline to fly with 100% SAF”.
As a result, Austrian Airlines was ordered to post a corrective statement on its website and social media channels, acknowledging its misleading claims and providing accurate information to travelers.
The statement read, “[Austrian Airlines] is guilty of failing to give a false impression in its commercial advertisements that it offers CO2-neutral flights, and/or the use of 100% [SAF].”
Dr. Barbara Bauer, a lawyer for VKI, concluded that “Promoting flights as CO2-neutral when this is not technically possible” and doing so “is going too far.” She went on to say, “It cannot even be guaranteed that sustainable aviation fuel is used in the specific flight”.
This case highlights the importance of transparency and truthfulness in advertising, particularly when it comes to environmental claims. Greenwashing can mislead consumers and undermine efforts to promote genuine sustainability in the aviation industry.
Austrian Airlines isn’t alone in making this mistake. Several airlines have made similar missteps, including Lufthansa and Etihad Airways in May 2023.
Both airlines were found to have issued misleading statements about flying sustainably in 2022 by the United Kingdom’s (UK) Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).
The importance of SAF
It is worth noting that sustainable aviation fuel is an important step towards reducing the carbon footprint of air travel. SAF is produced from renewable sources and has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional jet fuel.
Despite this, it is crucial for airlines to be honest and accurate in their claims, ensuring that they do not mislead travelers or engage in deceptive marketing practices.
As consumers, it is essential for us to be vigilant and informed when making travel decisions. By supporting airlines that prioritize genuine sustainability and transparency, we can contribute to a more environmentally conscious aviation industry.
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