March 28, 2023

Why ditching airplane meals could be good for the planet

Some airlines are starting to include the option to travel without meals.

Window or corridor? Closer to the toilet or closer to the cockpit? Meal or no meal?

When Gilbert Ott was sorting out the reservation details for his overnight flight from New York to London, he noticed something new on his list of meal preferences: in addition to options like a kosher or vegetarian meal, there was the option to skip catering. overall service, food.

He chose, and well, not to eat. It’s something, he says, that all passengers should consider doing.

“I turn down meals on whatever flight I’m on,” says Ott, who wrote about her experience on her blog, God Save the Points. “The idea of ​​eating at midnight messes up the whole next day, and I think science can prove that it hurts your ability to recover from jet lag.”

While not everyone is as excited about the prospect of skipping plane meals as Gilbert Ott, some airlines, including Delta (which Gilbert flew on) and Japan Airlines (JAL), use the “thanks but no thanks” option.

Whether this catches on with passengers in the long run remains to be seen.

Why are meals important?

Currently, the skip meal option is only available to select passengers flying Delta Business class. An airline spokesperson tells CNN that since the program began last year, an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 meals are voluntarily withheld each month.

This means that only 0.3% of passengers choose this option. But it is a test of what airlines could do to reduce fuel, costs and waste on board.

According to the airlines, the “no meals” option is not only environmentally friendly. It’s also a matter of personalization.

“We are always looking for ways to better serve our customers and create a more personalized onboard experience,” says a Delta spokesperson.

Meals also represent an opportunity for airlines to collect more data about customers and potentially optimize catering options.

Some meals that are not open during flights are left for the crew. Photo: Anchiy/E+/Getty Images

Is it just “greenwashing”?

Critics of the no-meal option say airlines may do so greenery,” trying to hide a spending cut under the veneer of sustainability.

In 2020, when JAL launched the skip meal option, the airline offered passengers a courtesy kit in return.

One critic, Gary Leff of the blog “The View from the Wing,” called the courtesy kit “a bargaining chip” and argued that the program puts too much of a burden on the passenger to make a change, rather than the airline itself.

“I suppose it is ethical for Japan Airlines to save money by reducing food waste, but it will be a moral obligation for the passenger to make their meal decisions at least 25 hours before departure, or in other words to know whether his future self Hungry?’ asked.

JAL’s program began as a trial run on a few routes. It is now available to passengers of any class on any international flight.

It was originally called the “ethical meal skipping option,” but the word “ethical” has since been dropped. The courtesy kit offer has ended and has been replaced by a partnership with a charity called Table for Two.

The airline says that for every meal not provided, it will donate a small amount to this charity that provides school meals to children living in poverty. However, the airline does not specify how much money it is donating or which schools or areas are covered.

Will travelers feel good about themselves if they make a “green” choice? Or will they just feel hungry?

“From a customer’s perspective, you feel like you’re being ripped off,” says Joaquin Hidalgo, who, along with Meiling Chen, delved deep into the world of aviation industry waste for his 2022 MIT master’s thesis.

“But I think they should be more informed, I have to say, about the complexity of the whole thing and what’s really going on in the whole airplane food supply chain.”

For those airlines that do not offer a “no meal” option, there are questions about what to do with uneaten airline food.

A common suggestion is to donate it to food banks or shelters. But the strict levels of regulation in the airline industry, as well as different laws at airports, mean this is almost impossible even if meals remain closed at all times. The same regulations that prevent travelers from carrying fruit, meat or other food across the border apply here.

So what happens to the food that is not consumed by the airlines? Some airlines allow flight attendants to eat intact business class or first class meals. Most of the time, however, they are either incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.

Joaquin Hidalgo believes the airline industry could move in the same direction as hotels that offer incentives to guests to forgo daily sheet changes or simply for ecological benefit.

By being transparent about food waste and educating travelers, ditching in-flight meals could become an environmental statement rather than just a personal preference – albeit undermined by the climate impact of flying.

What if I change my mind?

Gilbert Ott says the most common question he hears about skipping meals is “what if I change my mind?” After all, when you’re in a metal tube in the sky, you can’t just stop and grab a snack.

Many airlines stock snacks on board, especially on long-haul flights. It’s not always free, but knowing you won’t be hungry in the air is priceless.

If you’re confident and know what you like, Ott says any customization option is fine.

In Ott’s case, he flies the same route between JFK and Heathrow at least once a month and has a well-established travel routine, from his sleeping habits to what he packs in his carry-on.

He also knows he’ll keep saying “no thanks” to airplane food, no matter how tempting it looks.

“The airline may have Foie graslobster and caviar and I still won’t eat it.’

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