Sunday, March 09, 2008

British Airways - over the top with plastic waste

I recently flew on a British Airways flight from Munich to Heathrow and was left speechless by its profligate use of plastic in its meals...

I just returned from a week in Madrid and Munich, delivering trainings for Oracle. Usually such trips barely count as work. I get upgrades because I fly so much and being paid to offer up my "wisdom" to other developers - well, that is a privilege, really. This time, though, it felt distinctly like work, because I lost my voice (caught some sort of illness, then presented for four hours at the Ottawa User Group) just before I flew to Madrid, and over the rest of the week, got sicker and sicker. I am flying back home. First, I took a British Airways flight from Munich to Heathrow, and now an American Airlines 777 back to Chicago.

On the BA flight, I opened up their magazine and read an article titled:

British Airways shows its green initiative

And the opening paragraph informed us: "British Airways has taken fresh steps to intensify its work in limiting climate change. The airline has unveiled a new carbon offset scheme..." and then it went on to describe several other initiatives.

Well, that sounded interesting (except that I think those carbon offset programs are bogus and mostly used to ease consciences, rather than have any real positive or offsetting effect). And then the flight attendants delivered our meals.

Now, I should explain that airlines in Europe do things very differently from the US these days. This flight (Munich to Heathrow) was only 1.5 hours long. In the US, on a flight that short and even on many longer flights, you will be lucky to get a small bag of nuts or pretzels. You might even have to pay for water.

In Europe, I have been on flights that were under an hour in length and stil lthe flight attendants very aggressively got a meal and drink (including alcohol if you so desire) into our hands. How do they stay in business?

So we got a meal on our flight -- and I was stunned at the contrast between that article ("green initiative") and the meal package. Here's what I got:

A sandwich, small candy bar, little container of milk for coffee or tea. The sandwich was inside a plastic wrap, and that along with everything else was in its own plastic wrap. Lots of plastic. But this was nothing new to me. Seems like the normal BA meal form.

Underneath the sandwich, I found another plastic bag, which usually contains sugar, a stirring stick and napkin. But this bag contained something else.

That's right: another plastic bag that contained within it a plastic bag that we were to use to hold all of our trash when we were done eating our snack! I have never seen anything like this before.

Usually the flight attendants walk down the aisle, pick up our trash, and dump it into a big plastic trash bag.

Today, the BA flight attendants walked down the aisle, pick up our trash bags, and dump them into a bigger plastic trash bag.

So BA has deliberately chosen to add thousands and thousands more plastic bugs to our landfills and oceans. Why, British Airways, why would you do this? Please stop! Or if you are going to do this, then please stop publishing self-congratulatory articles on how green you are!


Danny B said...

Hi Steve - great observation on a worrying problem. I recently flew Air Canada back to the UK and was similarly overwhelmed by the procession of plastic. I am a journalist and will be writing an article on the issue so any more examples you have I'd love to include them in the feature.

cheers - Danny

Ayodhya said...

Steve, I think you might be a little short sighted here. Airlines not only have to worry about Eco friendliness but also the health concerns and cost (the one thing all Green folks forget.) I'm sure they don't like throwing away trash or money. They've a greater responsibility to ensure hygeinic food can be prepared well in advance, transported, and served in flight for YOUR enjoyment. Instead of simply 'nagging' BA, how about you actually suggest an equally hygeinic way of serving food?

Steven Feuerstein said...


I don't really see how your comment applies. This has nothing to do with hygene of serving of food. Just the way they collect the trash.