Empty bladders, fewer olives give cost-saving wings
In 1987, American Airlines removed a single olive from each of its in-flight salads, reducing costs by a remarkable $40,000 (about R590,000) a year. The savings were two-fold. First, caterers could cross off tens of thousands of olives from their weekly shopping list, but second, each aircraft would now be lighter.
Olives are by no means hefty, but when it comes to weight and subsequent fuel savings, airlines do not mess about.
With some planes burning up to 3.7l of fuel every second, lightening the load is an easy way to tighten the belt.
Some attempts to reduce weight are more sensible than others. Virgin Atlantic, for example, made its glassware thinner and removed some of its slate plates from upper class.
The carrier also changed its chocolate and sweet offerings to lighter versions, redesigned its meal trays and altered its beverage offering for night flights, when fewer people drink.
British Airways, which has a dedicated fuel-efficiency team, has also reduced the weight of its catering equipment, as well as printing its in-flight magazine on lighter paper.
Less sensible ideas to reduce the weight of flights include Ryanair’s 2012 memo to staff to “watch their weight ... with the motivation of appearing in the annual Ryanair calendar” – a celebration of the carrier’s annual charity publication that featured scantily-clad flight attendants but was scrapped in 2014.
The Irish airline did, however, also reduce the size of its magazine from A4 to A5 and cut the amount of ice taken on board.
In the same year, Northwest Airlines, a US airline about to be absorbed by Delta, saved $500,000 (about R7.3m) a year, by slicing its limes into 16 slices instead of 10.
This of course pales in comparison to the attempts of Japanese airline All Nippon Airways, when in 2009 it asked passengers to visit the lavatory before boarding because empty bladders means lighter bladders.
And then there was Samoa Air, which in 2013 introduced a “fat tax”, whereby passengers would be charged a fare according to their weight.
Chief executive Chris Langton told CNN at the time: “What makes airplanes work is weight. We are not selling seats, we are selling weight.”
This is, broadly speaking, why airlines charge for checked baggage and imposes weight limits on all luggage.
Despite Samoa Air’s revolutionary actions, it has not yet reverted to a fully weight-relative charging system.
If the industry did, passengers might be charged for bringing a mobile phone on board.
Researchers at MIT have estimated that each passenger carrying a phone on Southwest Airlines cost it $1.2m (about R17.5m) a year in weight-relat- ed fuel expenses, a figure that jumps to $21.6m (about R315m) if the phones were swapped for laptops.
Advances in aviation technology have somewhat mitigated the need for airlines to confiscate phones at the gate.
New lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft produced by Boeing and Airbus, such as the 787 and the A350, where electrics replace heavy, mechanic systems, have led to large cuts in fuel bills.
Upgrading the likes of the 737 and the A320with new engines has helped keep fares low.
In developing its 777-300ER, the American plane manufacturer eliminated the need for 20,000 washers, saving 53kg.
Another industry-wide change that has helped each plane to an 18kg reduction in weight is swapping the wheelbarrow full of manuals and maps pilots require for an iPad.
As long as the industry – and airlines – are innovating, heavy passengers are safe. But carriers are known to go to any length to cut costs, so don’t get too comfortable.
Northwest Airlines saved by slicing its limes into 16 slices instead of 10