I feel a little peeved when I look at the cover of a travel publication and see a photo of some celebrity positioned as an expert on a certain destination.

Reading the articles generally leaves me feeling self-righteous and superior: Yes, I do know more about Paris than Sofia Coppola, more about Austin than Dennis Quaid, more about Savannah than Bobby Flay.

Before I let my grapes get too sour speaking on behalf of all of us travel experts (we should be on the covers, right?), I acknowledge that the celebrity angle works on me. I am more curious to know what the celebrated think about a destination than what someone unknown thinks.

These musings about celebrity and travel occurred to me in a very different context last week as I sat listening to Virgin Atlantic Chairman Richard Branson, the world's most famous airline executive, discuss his hopes for cutting emissions from commercial aircraft. The week before, Branson said he would invest $3 billion in renewable-energy initiatives over the next 10 years.

He opened by outlining, in broad strokes, his goals for emissions reduction and making aviation a "sustainable" industry. He wants to stimulate cooperation among airlines, airports, aviation manufacturers and, if need be, governments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 25% in two years, in part by instituting procedural changes that would require minimal or no investment.

His first recommendation concerned how planes descend. Currently, planes approach touchdown with a "stepped" descent, dropping down then levelling off and going forward, dropping down and then levelling off and going forward, etc., until they've landed.

In a "continuous descent" approach, on the other hand, a plane can reduce its thrust much earlier in the flight and, in effect, glide down with engines at minimum thrust, burning significantly less fuel.

Also outlined was a new methodology for pre- and post-flight ground operations, wherein planes would be towed to a grid near the runway and turn on their engines only 10 minutes before takeoff (many engines need to be on that long to warm up). Currently, a plane's engines may be on as long as 30 to 90 minutes before takeoff.

He also spoke about the need to better coordinate the 35 separate air traffic control zones that span Europe. The current system results in routing that makes flights longer than they need to be.

By the end of the press conference, two things stood out. One, not all of his suggestions were new: only the change in ground operations was original. Two, when it came to details, he let his resident experts, Chief Flight Officer Dave Kistruck and COO Lyell Strambi, explain them.

And herein lies the difference between the power of celebrity and the power of experts. Had I received an invitation to listen to Dave Kistruck and Lyell Strambi discuss ways that carbon dioxide emissions could be cut, I might well have concluded that I could put my time to better use elsewhere, if I had even bothered opening the e-mail at all. If Branson had not initiated the press conference, I would not be writing about the procedural changes.

When I spoke to Branson after the formal press conference, it was clear that he had no shortage of genuine enthusiasm and passion for coordinating a cross-industry forum to work on these initiatives. He has already written to leaders of these sectors (including rival British Airways) and was excited that Gatwick Airport was interested in working with him to become more "green."

He appeared to understand the principles and perhaps even some of the specific science behind these initiatives. His comprehension of the consequences of doing nothing to reduce emissions was crystal clear. But it also seemed to me that when I asked him about some of the more technical aspects, he was not as comfortable articulating those details.

All of which is to say that, going forward, I will be a little less peeved about seeing celebrities on the covers of travel magazines.

Just as Branson is using his celebrity to call attention to a serious industry concern that might otherwise be buried in a pile of press releases, Coppola, Quaid, Flay and other celebrities featured on the covers of travel magazines bring notice to certain destinations specifically and, more generally, to the glamour of travel.

Just as Branson left the details to Kistruck and Strambi, when it comes time for the motivated reader to book a trip, the details are handed off to the experts.

All in all, it is, from an industry standpoint, an efficient, low-cost and sustainable system to get people onto planes.

Now, if we could only come up with a way to convert the moxie of reality-show "celebrities" into jet fuel, all our problems would be solved.


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