Delta Air Lines is facing a possible class action lawsuit over its carbon-neutral claims.
The case has been filed by California resident Mayanna Berrin and claims to act on behalf of anyone who flew the airline while living in the state since March 2020.
She alleges that the airline inaccurately billed itself as the “first carbon-neutral airline” while relying on carbon offsets that were inadequate.
Carbon offsetting allows companies to compensate for their own pollution and boost climate credentials by purchasing credits from projects around the world that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions, such as tree planting or nature restoration.
But the quality of these credits is variable and there are no global standards.
Ms Berrin said that Delta’s promise three years ago to go carbon neutral had allowed the airline to gain market share and charge higher prices.
She told The Associated Press: “I felt comfortable paying more because I was neutralising when I needed to travel for work or to see my family.”
The lawsuit claims that Delta purchased credits from projects around the world but the benefits from the offsets were likely to be only temporary and would have happened without the airline’s investment.
For a carbon credit to be valid, it has to provide a benefit that would not have happened otherwise.
“They can’t just claim neutrality if that’s not factually accurate,” Ms Berrin said.
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“Lawsuits in general are very scary, and there are a lot of people who echo my frustrations who may not know their rights or the impact they can make by speaking up.”
A Delta spokesperson said the lawsuit was “without legal merit”.
They said: “Since 31 March, 2022, [Delta] has fully transitioned its focus away from carbon offsets toward decarbonisation of our operations, focusing our efforts on investing in sustainable aviation fuel.”
They added that the company is renewing its fleet with “more fuel-efficient aircraft and implementing operational efficiencies”.
Technically, a case does not become a class action until state or federal court certification – a process that can take months or even years.
It requires the plaintiffs to give written submissions to the court to prove they have enough in common to succeed.