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,
This 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.
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.
During the flight, I can choose movies or shows to watch or even access the Internet via Wifi.
I can even check the progress of my flight any time I want.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Sir 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?
Beth Terry 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.
Getting plastic removed from Virgin’s flying wombs is an immaculate concept!
You’re almost as good as my husband. He majored in puns at Harvard. :-)
Now I want to fly Virgin!
Thank you for sharing your letters, they make writing my own a little less daunting!
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…
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!
That’s a great achievement Beth, not to mention the chance to sit down and have a chat with Richard Branson. Well done!
Wow! That’s great.
YAY YAY YAY!!!!!!!!!
Branson responded to my letter today! http://web.archive.org/web/20130510095435/http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/plastic-on-our-airlines
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.
You are my hero, Beth!!!
I posted my idea on Richard Branson’s blog.
Great news! Richard Branson wrote a blog post in response to this letter today. Please leave him a comment on his blog: http://web.archive.org/web/20130510095435/http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/plastic-on-our-airlines
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!
@Beth Terry Congratulations, Beth! Once again, you’ve proved that positive change is possible. Very inspiring indeed!
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!
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.
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.
Sir Richard’s response drew me to your blog, awesome work, will add it to my must read
Hemp derived oil for fuel and plastic as well as it’s thousands of other users should be promoted and used more!
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.
Great article, Beth! After reading, I was interested to find out if Virgin has a recycling program, and found that Virgin, in 2009, pledged to recycle or reuse 50% of all waste generated on flights by 2012. I wonder how they are doing at meeting or exceeding their goal. I think Virgin needs support of environmentalists, and I like your take on it – sharing the LOVE of companies trying to go the distance.
I’ve been thinking about this post and what I love about it so much is that there are so many levels of solutions given…. Which shows Virgin that perfection isn’t expected. :) I’ll be interested to know if you hear from them… And if not, you should totally turn this into a petition.
Being an international company doesn’t exuse u, pls take a stand & stop this needless exess in plastic pollution. I would happily pay a little more for a ‘zero plastic ticket’
My Plastic-free Life, Did u ever hear from Richard Branson?
Amazing presentation… thank you for letting me know there is someone else out there writing to airlines too… it’s so inspiring to know I’m not alone!
I don’t remember which airline it was, and it happened several years ago, but while boarding a plane once I noticed an airline worker removing 1,000,000 plastic six-pack rings from soda cans. If the airlines must serve high-fructose corn syrup they might purchase same packaged in cardboard and not attached together in groups of six with nasty plastic.
The sad thing is I didn’t share my disgust with the airline, at the time.
FYI, I know that there is a water bottle refilling station in the United Terminal at SFO. I am pretty sure the water refill stations are a San Francisco Airport thing not any individual airline service.
I travel a lot and get soooo mad at myself if I forget my water bottle at home.
It’s true that SFO has other bottle filling stations. But Virgin America takes credit for the hydration station in their terminal, as well as all the other aspects of the terminal because SFO is their headquarters. Check out their fact sheet: http://web.archive.org/web/20130919004518/http://www.virginamerica.com:80/html/corporate-fact-sheet-t2.pdf
I’m terrified about flying too, but I just agreed to a short (3 hour!) plane ride for a vacation with my husband. I’m going to try the hypnotherapy and I’m going to see if we can book on Virgin America. Love your picture of their calming interiors. I’ll be sure to bring my own water bottle on board too. Thanks for the info. Love your postings. I haven’t bought a water bottle in ages and I pack my lunch using reusable bags.
Amazing Beth! I hope you’ve read this Sir Richard. You have the chance to stand out from the crowd once again by reducing your single use plastic. You could even ask your flyers if they have their own headphones within your tickets – which the majority of people do – and ask them to bring them, rather than using your new ones. And most people own a toothbrush and really don’t need one for just a flight. Your a busy man, but single use plastic rally can’t be ignored. Looking forward to your response.
He responded today! http://web.archive.org/web/20130510095435/http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/plastic-on-our-airlines
I haven’t flown in 4 years, b/c I hate traveling with little children. Thanks for reminding me that I can feel virtuous instead of lame about it! These are fabulous suggestions, Beth, and I love that you are so thoughtful about the impact of your own traveling.
Brilliant! I so approve, and agree with all you said. And I love the semi-humorous tone. Did you send Richard Branson the original? I do hope so. Wouldn’t it be great if he implemented all your suggestions!
And, oh dear Beth, I am sooo sorry you are so fearful in the air. Hopefully, repetition is making it easier.
Dare to go for it, Mr Branson!
That’s a great initiative Beth. I don’t think Virgin Australia is that advanced, but wish it was. I hope Richard Branson responds. Marea from ‘No to Plastic’
Excellent post! I also hate to fly. I think targeting companies we actually like and want to patronise is the best option, we are their customers after all.
I’m going to fly Virgin JUST so I can refill my own bottle from a filtered water station!! Is this only available at particular airports?
I don’t know if other airports have them. Virgin America worked with SFO to build their own terminal there.
After hurricane Sandy, Anheuser-Busch put beer production on hold at one of their plants. They started canning drinking water for residents and relief workers.
I know cans are not a perfect solution, but it is better than plastic. It begs the question WHY don’t companies [generally] sell water in cans?? They sell seltzer, tonic, etc etc, but not plain old water. Hmm, very curious.
ANYWAY, I can’t imagine that using canned water would impact plane weight very much. Aluminum cans would be much better in terms of recyclability.
Also, I just realized that the beginning of this post sounds like a commercial for Virgin America. I want to make clear that Virgin America did not put me up to this or give me anything for writing it. It’s all my idea. I really do feel this way about their planes.
Clearly, I need to fly on Virgin America. That sounds nice!
Also, you make some excellent points. I hope that some (or all) of them can be addressed, so that flying doesn’t have to mean a whole bunch of plastic.