Historically, airlines have had a mixed relationship with sustainability, given their reliance on fuel and the high cost of fleet upgrades. But heading into 2020, before the pandemic unfolded, the industry was beginning to change direction, with a focus on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the role of plastics in air travel.
Last year, Air France eliminated 1,300 tons of single-use plastics, while Etihad Airways pledged to reduce its single-use plastic usage by 80% by the end of 2022. Qantas put a plan in place to eliminate 75% of the airline’s waste by the end of 2021.
According to IATA, in 2017, the in-flight catering market was estimated at $15 billion, while the airline industry generated up to 5.7 million tons of cabin waste—20% comprised of untouched food and drink—costing the sector $927 million. With a pre-Covid passenger traffic growth rate of 7.6% per year, cabin waste was on track to have doubled by 2030.
Recognized as one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, food waste is emerging as a global issue with up to one-third (1.3 billion tons) lost or wasted annually and the specific target is to cut global food waste per capita in half by 2030. Airlines and their service providers must work collaboratively with regulators to ensure that aviation makes a positive contribution to this SDG target.
As an early response to Covid, many airlines drastically reduced in-flight beverage service, if not ditching it altogether. Reusable mugs and wine glasses were removed and food bags with the basic sustenance most passengers need over a medium- to long-haul flight were passed out.
The complimentary catering model pre-pandemic had effectively not changed since the 1970s. It was costly and wasteful for the airline, obsolete for the passenger and exhausting the planet. Unfortunately, this new sanitary catering system with additional packaging, intended to mitigate pathogen transmission risk to the consumer, will have a potentially harmful impact on the landfills that airports depend on.
Something has to change. According to Black Swan data analytics, there has been a 17% growth in passengers seeking nutritionally balanced in-flight solutions designed to boost immunity and combat the negative effects of air travel. Hence, the most innovative brands in the air travel sector are ripping up the rulebook with a revolutionary passenger experience designed to promote staying healthy while flying.
IN Air Travel Experience, FlyWell and The Aviation Nutritionist have pioneered a holistic approach to the cabin environment, combining their expertise in fine cusine, in-flight nutrition, wellness and relaxation. Together they have introduced an ultra-efficient, sustainable and reusable food concept designed to enhance passenger satisfaction while generating smart savings.
The game-changing new concept of one-dish meals—the IN.bowl—is made from carefully selected ingredients to balance immunity and body function while ensuring passengers maintain peak physical and mental performance during and after their flight.
And as consciousness takes a center stage in consumerism, led by Millennials and Gen Z, as part of the new in-flight experience, a menu of health-focused techniques for the mind and body includes breathing exercises, guided meditations, and gentle yoga sequences to educate travelers about the benefits of maintaining healthy digestive function, improving respiratory ability, balancing the immune system and expanding lung capacity.
Time will tell as to what impact Covid will have on the air travel experience once passenger confidence to fly again is restored. Many sectors are facing unparalleled disruption but travel and hospitality are on top of the list. Now is the time for airlines to make a change, to prioritize passenger health and safety by considering new opportunities for collaboration, a lighter environmental footprint and more conscious consumption.
Those that get it right will leave the competition in a holding pattern.