Empty blad­ders, fewer olives give cost-sav­ing wings

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Travel -

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

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