Adverts for Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for giving holidaymakers a misleading impression of the airlines’ environmental credentials.
The Google ads were all seen in July, with the ASA investigation and rulings part of a wider piece of enforcement work on climate change and the environment.
The adverts were identified for investigation following intelligence gathered by the ASA’s Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for online ads that might break the rules.
The Air France ad stated that the airline was “committed to protecting the environment” and urged holidaymakers to “travel better and sustainably”.
But the ASA said Air France did not provide it with a “substantive response” to its investigations. The watchdog said: “In the absence of any evidence demonstrating that Air France were protecting the environment and making aviation sustainable, we concluded that the claims gave consumers a misleading impression of the impact that travelling with Air France would have on the environment.”
The Lufthansa ad suggested that its customers would “fly more sustainably”. The airline claimed the “fly more sustainably” statement was a reference to its “Green Fares” option, which passengers could select on European flights.
This cut 20% of flight-related CO2 emissions by using sustainable aviation fuel and offset the remaining 80% with a contribution to climate protection projects.
However, after the ASA complaint the airline added that it had decided to remove the sentence “fly more sustainably” from future ads.
The ASA said: “While we welcomed Lufthansa’s decision to remove the sentence ‘fly more sustainably’ from future ads, we therefore concluded that the ad gave a misleading impression of Lufthansa’s environmental impact, and that the ad breached the code.”
Etihad’s ad claimed its service included “environmental advocacy”. After the ASA investigation, the airline immediately removed all references to “environmental advocacy” from its paid-for Google search ads in the UK.
The ASA said air travel produces high levels of both CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, which are making a substantial contribution to climate change. It pointed out that there are currently no initiatives or commercially viable technologies that would adequately substantiate absolute green claims from the aviation industry.
The ASA ruled that the three ads must not appear again.
‘Misleading ads could be an unfair commercial practice’
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Consumers are increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their travel plans, but deceptive claims by some holiday firms and airlines can make it impossible for them to make informed decisions before booking.
“It is encouraging to see the ASA taking such decisive action against adverts with environmental claims that could mislead consumers, as this can be an unfair commercial practice. Travel companies must clean up their act and stop taking advantage of their customers’ desire to reduce the impact of travel on the environment.”