Serena McIntire
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November 11, 2019

Sustainability Spotlight: Alaska Airlines

As air travel becomes burdensome the environment, some airlines are doubling down on their sustainability efforts. Alaska Airlines has taken special steps to become one of the most eco-friendly airlines on the planet. Is it because Alaska HQ is just outside of liberal Seattle where many of their corporate employees reside or because half of their board members are women? Probably both.

What makes Alaska Airlines an eco-friendly airliner?

Alaska has always been a pioneer in airline sustainability. In addition to being ranked #1 among North American airliners for the third year in a row by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and #7 globally on the same list, Alaska was the first airline to offer web check-in to passengers, saving countless amounts of paper used for mobile boarding passes (while also reducing the amount of time spent standing in line at the airport).

Alaska Airlines dominates as an eco-friendly airliner in three main categories: emissions, waste reduction, and sustainable fuel alternatives.

How Alaska Airlines dominates the green emissions game

What makes Alaska Airlines an eco-friendly airliner?

For seven years in a row (2010-2016), Alaska Airlines was ranked #1 in fuel efficiency among U.S. airlines by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). The crown currently belongs to Frontier Airlines, but Alaska’s track record for curbing fuel emissions is still brag-worthy. Alaska Airlines uses Required Navigation Performance (RNP)* technology to reduce fuel consumption and to plan the most efficient route, saving 1.2 million gallons of fuel each year. They also added split scimitar winglets to their planes, which save 34,000 gallons of fuel per aircraft each year. Additionally, Alaska’s aircraft tend to be newer and use technology that boosts efficiency (and safety—Alaska is one of the top 20 safest airlines in the world).

* I expected RNP to be a fancier term when I first looked it up and I’m still not used to how normal it sounds.

I also found this humble brag on Alaska’s site and couldn’t sum it up better myself:

Alaska Airlines is on track to save 87 gallons of fuel, shorten flight times by about nine minutes and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 1 metric ton, every time one of its planes land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport using new, operations-enhancing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) procedures. That's the equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide produced from driving about 1,800 miles in a passenger car, according to a new Boeing Company report. The benefits are about 28 percent greater than what was initially projected in 2010.

Reduce, reuse, recycle: How Alaska Airlines reduces waste

Alaska boast the most comprehensive recycling program of any airline. Alaska flight attendants recycled approximately 1,928 tons of cans, cups, paper, and other materials last year alone. They also compost the coffee grounds brewed on each flight—flight attendants serve 37,000 cups of coffee every day on 900+ daily flights that are brewed using more than 250,000 pounds of Starbucks coffee each year—quite the feat! The airline is also completely straw-free, opting for marine-friendly stir sticks made of wood instead of plastic. They even encourage customers to reduce their carbon footprint with their #FillBeforeYourFly campaign, encouraging customers to bring their own water bottles to the airport and fill them after they pass through TSA. The eco-friendly policies also extend to employee practices; Alaska Airlines reduced the amount of printed paper (more than 23 million sheets) by converting to tablets for the documents that flight attendants and pilots need access to in-flight (I’m hoping it’s just the boring HR paperwork on those tablets and nothing we’d need in a Lost scenario).

Mood lighting on fuel efficient Alaska Airlines planes.
Mood lighting is one of several fancy additions to the newer, fuel-efficient Alaska planes.

Mic drop: Alaska Airlines on sustainable fuel alternatives

In 2017, Alaska made history by being the first airline in the world to fly two commercial flights using a new biofuel made of scraps from the forest, such as stumps and tree branches. The airline also partnered with the Port of Seattle and Boeing to power all SeaTac flights with biofuel. SeaTac is the 8th busiest airport in the U.S., and this partnership will benefit the 32 airlines and 50 million passengers that fly out of the airport each year. This project will make SeaTac the first U.S. airport to have a long-term plan for adding infrastructure to support biofuel for airplanes.

Check out Alaska’s Fly Greener section of their blog for more ways on how they prioritize sustainability and take a look at the nifty infographic they created (below).

Alaska Airlines Sustainable Travel Infographic
Shamelessly stolen from the Alaska Airlines Fly Greener blog.

How you can fly more consciously

There are steps we can all take to improve our travel karma (#FillBeforeYourFly). Here’s a few tips on what you can do to add some green to your flight:

  • Fly in economy—first class flights take up more space on the plane, thus increasing the carbon footprint of each passenger in one of those seats.
  • Choose more environmentally-friendly airlines, such as Alaska!
  • Lower your window shade when you land or sit on the tarmac in sunny destinations—this decreases the energy exerted to cool the aircraft.
  • Purchase carbon credits to offset your fuel consumption.
  • Fly with low cost airlines, such as Frontier!
  • Fly nonstop—the largest amounts of fuel are used during takeoff and landing, so limiting the number of times you do this will decrease the overall carbon footprint of your flight.
  • Pack light, and try to limit your luggage to just a carry on.
  • Choose vegan in-flight meal options—according to scientists, veganism is the single biggest way an individual can reduce their environmental impact.

For more tips on how eco-friendly air travel, read my Travel Guide to Sustainable Flying.

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Serena McIntire
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