Adverts for Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad have been banned for misleading consumers about the airlines’ environmental impact.
Air France’s ad said it was “committed to protecting the environment” and Lufthansa urged passengers to “fly more sustainably”. Etihad’s ad used the words “environmental advocacy”.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the ads did not show the impact airlines have on climate change.
Lufthansa and Etihad removed the ads.
The ASA said Air France did not provide a “substantive response” to its investigations. It did not respond to the BBC’s request to comment.
The advertising watchdog said by claiming Air France enabled people to “travel better and sustainably”, customers would think the airline offered a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to travel by air, which was not true.
The ASA investigates adverts by companies it suspects of overstating their environmental friendliness, known as “corporate greenwashing”.
Lufthansa said the words “fly more sustainably” were a reference to its “Green Fares” option for passengers on European flights. It said this used some sustainable aviation fuel and made a contribution to climate protection projects.
Lufthansa told the BBC it aimed to be carbon neutral by 2050. It said it had taken the decision to remove “fly more sustainably” from future ads.
Etihad Airways said it had immediately removed all references to “environmental advocacy” from its paid-for Google search ads, after receiving the complaint. It told the BBC sustainability was a “key priority”.
The advertising watchdog said it had picked up the adverts using an artificial intelligence (AI) system, which uses the technology to search for possible rule breakers.
Wednesday’s ruling is not the first time Lufthansa has been pulled up by the ASA for greenwashing.
In March, the airline’s Make Change Fly campaign was found to have misled consumers into thinking the airline had already taken steps to make sure the environmental impact of its business was not harmful.
Lufthansa responded that the purpose of the ad was to address the need to reduce the impact of flying on the environment and make consumers aware, but the ASA upheld the decision. It said that air travel produced high levels of both CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, which were making a substantial contribution to climate change, a statement it repeated on Wednesday in its latest ruling.
Wednesday’s decision is the latest in a string of upheld decisions by the advertising watchdog over greenwashing. Since 2021, a slew of firms including Persil, HSBC and Shell, drinks companies Innocent and Oatly – and even two funeral providers Golden Leaves and JC Atkinson & Son – have had adverts banned.
Companies are receiving greater scrutiny than ever to lower carbon emissions, with airlines under particular pressure to reduce their footprint.
In November, the first transatlantic flight by a large passenger plane powered only by so-called sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) flew from London to New York.
It was seen as a demonstration that a greener way of flying is possible. But SAF accounts for less than 0.1% of the aviation fuel consumed around the world and there are currently no dedicated commercial plants in the UK.
The UK government plans to require 10% of aviation fuel to be SAF by 2030.
Correction: This article has been updated after an earlier version suggested Emirates airlines was affected by the ASA ruling.