IN DECEMBER 2021, 27,591 aircraft took off or landed at Frankfurt airport—890 every day. But this winter, many of them weren’t carrying any passengers at all. Lufthansa, Germany’s national airline, which is based in Frankfurt, has admitted to running 21,000 empty flights this winter, using its own planes and those of its Belgian subsidiary, Brussels Airlines, in an attempt to keep hold of airport slots.
Although anti-air travel campaigners believe ghost flights are a widespread issue that airlines don’t publicly disclose, Lufthansa is so far the only airline to go public about its own figures. In January, climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted her disbelief over the scale of the issue. Unusually, she was joined by voices within the industry. One of them was Lufthansa’s own chief executive, Carsten Spohr, who said the journeys were “empty, unnecessary flights just to secure our landing and takeoff rights.” But the company argues that it can’t change its approach: Those ghost flights are happening because airlines are required to conduct a certain proportion of their planned flights in order to keep slots at high-trafficked airports