United Airlines claims it operated “the most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind in the history of aviation” from Chicago to Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Combining biofuel with carbon credits and compostable service ware with “gentle” taxiing, United achieved (virtually) zero waste on Flight 310.
Instead of offering buy-on-board snacks and meals wrapped in plastic, passengers in economy class were offered three complimentary meal choices:
- Thai summer salad with mango and rice noodles
- Quinoa and kale superfood wrap
- Artisanal cheese plate
As reported by USA Today:
The meals were served on compostable or recyclable plates; hot beverages were served in recyclable paper cups, an industry first, according to the airline. The cutlery was compostable. In first class, passengers’ meals were covered with a beeswax wrap instead of the usual plastic and there was no plastic ring around the napkin.
Trash, which usually amounts to 65 pounds per flight, ended up being 14 pounds only because passengers discarded items they brought onboard.
Per United, the use of biofuel “dramatically reduces aircraft emissions as compared to traditional jet fuel.” The emissions that were created along with the trash were offset by carbon offset credits acquired through an investment in sustainable forestry projects with Conservation International. Furthermore, United used single-engine taxiing and a continuous-descent approach to cut back on fuel burn.
Speaking at the gate prior to the flight, United President Scott Kirby said:
We are proud to be the leading airline in the world working on sustainability initiatives. We are proud of that not only because it’s good for United Airlines in the short term and the long term, but all of us here at United, all 90,000 of us at United Airlines, want to leave behind a world that is better for our children, our grandchildren and future generations.
I don’t mean to miss the forrest in the trees, but I’m all for free meals on domestic flights “for the environment”. In all seriousness, as “carbon shaming” spreads in Europe, United is wisely getting ahead of the curve. Even token gestures help set a different narrative. As Scott Kirby noted, that certainly helps United on both a short-term and long-term basis. Sometimes the optics are what matter most.