The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
January 25, 2013

Dear Virgin America, I Love You, But Not Your Plastic Bottles

01/29/2013 Update: Richard Branson responds to my letter on his blog today: Plastic On Our Airlines

Dear Richard Branson & David Cush,

Virgin-America-window-sunriseThis letter serves two purposes.  First, to express my sincere gratitude for all you have done to make Virgin America the only airline I can fly without crying the whole time, and second, to ask you to address the issue of plastics on your flights.  First, the good stuff.

I’m a nervous flyer.  On takeoff, I’ve been known to cut off the circulation in my partner’s hand from gripping it so tightly.  And years ago, I had flight attendants offering me free alcohol even before the plane took off (and even though I was sitting in coach) just to calm me down.  But nowadays, after a little hypnotherapy and the advent of Virgin America, I actually enjoy flying.  Which is fortunate, because after the release of my book last year, I’ve found myself sitting on planes probably more often than in all other years combined.

The Flying Womb

From the moment I enter a Virgin America plane, I feel calm.  Perhaps that is because of the soothing blue and lavender mood lighting.  Really, your cabins are just lovely.

 

Virgin America mood lighting in cabin

The seats are soft and comfy.  And as soon as I sit down, I can plug in my headphones (my own that I bring with me) and listen to pretty much any kind of music I want through the personal entertainment system at my seat, even during take-off and landing.  Federal law requires passengers to shut off electronic devices on take-off, which used to make it impossible for me to listen to the music that would help keep me calm during the most stressful part of the flight.  Call it superstition, but I believe Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” keeps the plane in the air.  I have to play it every time the plane takes off.  Please don’t ever remove it from your playlist. Seriously. I’ve Tweeted about it.

Virgin-America-music

Virgin-America-music-radiohead

During the flight, I can choose movies or shows to watch or even access the Internet via Wifi.

Virgin-America-movie

I can even check the progress of my flight any time I want.

Virgin-America-map

I know the healthy adult thing would probably be to meditate instead of zoning out in front of a screen, but when I’m on a plane, I don’t want to be an adult.  And curling up on one of your planes feels to me like being in a giant flying womb, all warm and soft and safe.  I don’t know if that was what you were going for, but if so, you succeeded.

Guilt About Flying

While I might feel all snug and happy on your planes, I also carry a heavy load of guilt for all the flying I’ve had to do in the past year.  You know more than I how much CO2 the airline industry generates.  And since I am an environmental activist giving talks and presentations about reducing our plastic consumption, it’s ironic that the more I get out there and spread the word, the more my carbon footprint increases.  So I was interested to learn what you guys are doing to address issues of environmental sustainability.  I checked out the sustainability page on your website.  I’m happy to know you are working on developing more efficient planes, that your buildings are LEED certified, and that through your partnership with San Francisco International Airport, your new terminal is LEED-gold certified.

I personally have been impressed with the recycling/compost station in SFO’s Virgin America terminal

Virgin-America-SFO-terminal-recycling

and even more so with the water bottle filling station.  The station encourages passengers to fill up their own bottle before getting on the plane instead of consuming water from disposable plastic bottles.

Virgin-America-SFO-terminal-bottle-filling-station-01

Virgin-America-SFO-terminal-bottle-filling-station-02

Virgin-America-SFO-terminal-bottle-filling-station-03

A plane full of plastic bottles

In light of your environmental efforts and educational signage about bottled water, I’m always surprised by the mini plastic bottles of water offered to passengers on your flights.

Virgin-America-bottled-water

And despite your messaging in the airport terminal encouraging passengers to bring their own bottles, your own safety video that is shown before every flight portrays a passenger drinking water from a disposable plastic bottle.

Virgin-America-safety-video-bottled-water

Virgin-America-safety-video-bottled-water-2

On other airlines, flight attendants pour water from bigger bottles.  If, on a long flight, I run out of the water I brought with me from the bottle filling station, I can at least ask to have my reusable bottle filled from the bigger bottle and save a little plastic.

travel_accessories003

It might not seem like such a big plastic savings… switching from little bottles to bigger ones, but you would decrease the number of plastic caps by half.  Think how many bottle caps would not end up in the bellies of sea birds.

dead-albatross-chick-eats-plastic

Of course, even better would be a large water dispenser instead of individual plastic bottles.  Why not have a way to refill bottles on the plane as well as in the airport?

Reducing Aviation’s Plastic Footprint

Necker-Island-1394-530x330Sir Richard, last summer you wrote a blog post asking your readers to suggest alternatives to the plastic wrap used to secure bags at airports.  And recently, I was thrilled to discover a blog post announcing that you are supporting the Whole World Water Campaign to eliminate plastic bottles at your home of Necker Island and instead bottle your own water in glass.

Virgin America is a leader in the airline industry.  I’m wondering, in addition to worrying about small things like plastic bottles, what could be done to minimize the impact of all the plastic used inside airplanes?  From floor to ceiling, the plane is one big plastic box.  What about developing a more sustainable material?  Plastic from plant waste?  Plastic from recycled materials?  I realize that plastics make planes lightweight, and that reducing the weight reduces the CO2 emissions.  But plastics also contain toxic chemicals that can leach out and offgas.  And the production of plastic from fossil fuels is a dirty business.

What ideas do you have for reducing aviation’s plastic footprint?  And for making my little womb in the sky, which helps me reach people all over the country with the message of plastic-free living, as non-toxic and sustainable as possible?

 

91 comments
Kay Pere
Kay Pere

BethTerry As mine did at Bucknell. :-) His intelligence, strong moral compass, creativity, and wacky sense of humor are what won my heart. Can't beat that combo to keep a girl smiling. That and the rubber chicken we chased down a river on our first date while discussing quantum physics.

BethTerry
BethTerry

Kay Pere You're almost as good as my husband.  He majored in puns at Harvard.  :-)

Kay Pere
Kay Pere

Getting plastic removed from Virgin's flying wombs is an immaculate concept! Congrats on the response from Sir Richard!

Kay Pere
Kay Pere

Getting plastic removed from Virgin's flying wombs is an immaculate concept!

Virgin America and Plastic Pollution Coalition | P
Virgin America and Plastic Pollution Coalition | P

[…] be a good idea to pen an open letter to Sir Richard Branson and Virgin America to let them know her thoughts on in-flight disposable plastic. Thanks to her letter, PPC’s outreach, and Virgin America’s amazing crew of dedicated and […]

lisa
lisa

Now I want to fly Virgin!

Chelsea Gale
Chelsea Gale

Thank you for sharing your letters, they make writing my own a little less daunting!

Chelsea Gale
Chelsea Gale

Thank you for sharing your letters, they make writing my own a little less daunting!

Kleurplaten
Kleurplaten

Wow, those planes from Virgin are awesome :O , to bad i never saw them before in the Netherlands... i want to try them out :) because i hate to fly...

Elizabeth Montalbano
Elizabeth Montalbano

Wow this is great!! There is so much plastic wrapping on airlines in general, it's untrue. Virgin seems to be doing its part to try to reduce this, but there's more they can do...and it's great that you got a response. One person can make a difference. Keep up the good work!

Elizabeth Montalbano
Elizabeth Montalbano

Wow this is great!! There is so much plastic wrapping on airlines in general, it's untrue. Virgin seems to be doing its part to try to reduce this, but there's more they can do...and it's great that you got a response. One person can make a difference. Keep up the good work!

No to Plastic
No to Plastic

That's a great achievement Beth, not to mention the chance to sit down and have a chat with Richard Branson. Well done!

No to Plastic
No to Plastic

That's a great achievement Beth, not to mention the chance to sit down and have a chat with Richard Branson. Well done!

Aviation Geek
Aviation Geek

So right now, planes are plastic boxes on the INSIDE. But the new 787, which, if it can solve its battery problems, will become the workhouse for most airlines, has a FUSELAGE made mainly out of carbon fiber -- plastic -- rather than recyclable aluminum.

MarkDuncan
MarkDuncan

I posted my idea on Richard Branson's blog.

MarkDuncan
MarkDuncan

I posted my idea on Richard Branson's blog.

StefanThompson
StefanThompson

Dear Beth. Excellent post. Richard's answer also took me to your page which i intend to read thoroughly when i find the time.

Something you mentioned at the beginning of your post sparked my interest and i wanted to point to a suggestion. you mentioned the guilt you feel about flying as much as you do. i feel the same way and decided to start offsetting my carbon footprint. i use a german company, but wanted to offer you a good article i stumbled upon which lists and rates serious carbon-offsetting companies. 

cheers and keep up the great work!

Stefan

 

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/travel-outdoors/top-carbon-offset-companies.html

StefanThompson
StefanThompson

Dear Beth. Excellent post. Richard's answer also took me to your page which i intend to read thoroughly when i find the time.

Something you mentioned at the beginning of your post sparked my interest and i wanted to point to a suggestion. you mentioned the guilt you feel about flying as much as you do. i feel the same way and decided to start offsetting my carbon footprint. i use a german company, but wanted to offer you a good article i stumbled upon which lists and rates serious carbon-offsetting companies. 

cheers and keep up the great work!

Stefan

 

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/travel-outdoors/top-carbon-offset-companies.html

Joyfully Green
Joyfully Green

I love Virgin Atlantic, even though I've only flown them one time--to England, long ago. I still remember it as one of my best flights. I've just never been going anywhere where they are going. Having said that, I love what the company represents. I follow Richard Branson on LinkedIn and he seems to be intelligent and in touch with his customers and their values--which is so refreshing, especially when you consider somebody like the CEO of Whole Foods (who recently called Obama's healthcare program "fascism" and said that global warming "might not be such a bad thing"...?!).

 

I look forward to reading the company's response to you, Beth.

hanniff
hanniff

Sir Richard's response drew me to your blog, awesome work, will add it to my must read

Joyfully Green
Joyfully Green

I love Virgin Atlantic, even though I've only flown them one time--to England, long ago. I still remember it as one of my best flights. I've just never been going anywhere where they are going. Having said that, I love what the company represents. I follow Richard Branson on LinkedIn and he seems to be intelligent and in touch with his customers and their values--which is so refreshing, especially when you consider somebody like the CEO of Whole Foods (who recently called Obama's healthcare program "fascism" and said that global warming "might not be such a bad thing"...?!).

 

I look forward to reading the company's response to you, Beth.

MarkRestelli
MarkRestelli

Very well presented, Beth! We've always liked our stainless steel bottle, as it never wears out and keeps cool and tasty. You have a new follower.

MarkRestelli
MarkRestelli

Very well presented, Beth! We've always liked our stainless steel bottle, as it never wears out and keeps cool and tasty. You have a new follower.

hanniff
hanniff

Sir Richard's response drew me to your blog, awesome work, will add it to my must read

ChrissyBoddy
ChrissyBoddy

Hemp derived oil for fuel and plastic as well as it's thousands of other users should be promoted and used more!

ChrissyBoddy
ChrissyBoddy

Hemp derived oil for fuel and plastic as well as it's thousands of other users should be promoted and used more!

Carl Bennett
Carl Bennett

I was basically Polymer Plastics free until I was twelve years old in 1946. The issue is not 'Plastics' per-se; but recycling; and plastics disposal in my view! We can't go back! It would not be feasible or reasonable in numerous dimensions.

Carl Bennett
Carl Bennett

I was basically Polymer Plastics free until I was twelve years old in 1946. The issue is not 'Plastics' per-se; but recycling; and plastics disposal in my view! We can't go back! It would not be feasible or reasonable in numerous dimensions.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@Kay Pere You're almost as good as my husband.  He majored in puns at Harvard.  :-)

Joyfully Green
Joyfully Green

 @BethTerry Congratulations, Beth! Once again, you've proved that positive change is possible. Very inspiring indeed!

ecokaren
ecokaren

 @BethTerry You are just so awesome. I loved your positive post - a great way to approach a company to respond to your ideas. No wonder he replied! One more reason to fly Virgin! Let's hope this one big plastic womb in the sky will be less plastic soon. Way to go! 

Joyfully Green
Joyfully Green

@BethTerry Congratulations, Beth! Once again, you've proved that positive change is possible. Very inspiring indeed!

ecokaren
ecokaren

@BethTerry You are just so awesome. I loved your positive post - a great way to approach a company to respond to your ideas. No wonder he replied! One more reason to fly Virgin! Let's hope this one big plastic womb in the sky will be less plastic soon. Way to go!

Kay Pere
Kay Pere

 @BethTerry As mine did at Bucknell. :-) His intelligence, strong moral compass, creativity, and wacky sense of humor are what won my heart. Can't beat that combo to keep a girl smiling. That and the rubber chicken we chased down a river on our first date while discussing quantum physics.

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  1. […] be a good idea to pen an open letter to Sir Richard Branson and Virgin America to let them know her thoughts on in-flight disposable plastic. Thanks to her letter, PPC’s outreach, and Virgin America’s amazing crew of dedicated and […]