It’s 2019, and airlines’ ecological credentials are under the microscope and Delta Air Lines is among those responding.
Aside from the ongoing question of emissions-based taxation, single-use plastics and the amount of waste generated onboard the aircraft are a hot topic, and some airlines are doing their best to stay ahead of this curve.
Delta, for its part, says it’s bang on trend with new amenity kits that swap the plastic bag that used to wrap them for a paper seal, saving what the airline says will be a remarkably precise “30,951 pounds of plastic” from ending up in landfills.
That is, in the aviation equivalent of the swimming pool/bus/747 scale of measurement, approximately one Bombardier (soon to be Mitsubishi?) CRJ-200.
The new Tumi-branded kits themselves are… fine, I suppose.
I find it difficult to get excited about boring light grey or boring black on boring medium grey, and it’s a weird choice for Delta’s very red-white-and-blue Delta ONE cabin color schemes.
Trying to find something positive to say about it, it seems that it’s “designed to fit a small tablet”, which is a point in the reusability column.
It’s particularly odd in juxtaposition with the economy class handouts — offering a moist towelette, sleep mask and earplugs in regular economy, while the buy-up extra-legroom Comfort+ seats get a dental kit too — where Delta has used fun customer photos (curated through its #SkyMilesLife hashtag) for the prints on the disposable packaging.
And there’s the greenwash rub: the vast majority of the passengers on the plane — that’s 74% on the A350, 226 in the main cabin vs 32 in Delta ONE and 48 in Premium Select — will be throwing away a disposable plastic wrapping.
I note also that while the Delta ONE business class kit toothbrush looks like it’s made of some eco-friendly recycled material, the toothbrushes down the back are good old single-use disposable plastic.
And with a series of frankly boring amenity kits — containing plastic-based eye masks, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, mouthwash sachets, hand sanitizer, moist towelettes, earplugs and so on — it feels like the leave-behind rate will be fairly high. I can’t help wondering if there’s a better way to do this.
It doesn’t feel like automatically handing out every piece of kit to every passenger on every flight is an environmentally friendly way to do things.
Does it make sense to force passengers who might only use the moist towelette on a day flight to open up a full amenity kit, with its full carbon footprint?
In economy, could the kits perhaps be packaged in paper rather than single-use plastic?
Could the toothbrush kits be made available in the lavatories or at a self-serve station for those passengers who want to brush their teeth in whatever’s contained in the onboard water?
Could the moist towelettes, eye masks and ear plugs be passed out in a bowl or tray, as I experienced on an Air Dolomiti flight earlier this year?
In premium economy and business, could this perhaps be an opportunity for a positive crew interaction, leveraging the higher concentration of flight attendants in the front cabins? (“Thank you for flying Premium Select! Would you care for a moist towelette?”)
Could the bags be offered via a three-minute cabin walk-and-smile? Could the various items within be similarly passed out? Could a self-service space be set up in the galley?
Here’s the thing: just thinking of my own preferences, I always carry a pen, hate airline socks, never use an eye mask. use earbud earphones instead of earplugs, and perhaps use a dental kit on one flight out of three, preferring instead to munch my way through some chewing gum to freshen my breath and use my own toothbrush and toothpaste when I get where I’m going than brush my teeth in an airline lav.
And it’s not like I don’t have a closet shelf half-full of amenity kits.
But I’m always grateful for a little bottle of hand sanitizer to pop in my pocket, find a bit of lip balm helpful for a long flight, and appreciate a hand cream on a long flight on an older aircraft (which Delta, of course, has in spades).
Delta could dramatically cut the weight, cost and complexity of provisioning a kit by simply offering me a little bottle of hand sanitizer, lip balm and hand cream — while at the same time my happiness by making two of each of these things available if I want them in case I might like a spare.
Rethinking the way airlines do amenity kits will take effort. But the current zeitgeist makes it the perfect time to try.