Hi Fly Operates World’s First Plastic Free Flight

I spent a good deal of time in the US late last year and was horrified to see the amount of single use, plastic packaging in use everywhere.

This was particularly evident in chain hotel rooms with their coffee machines. There were individual packs with sugar, creamer, a napkin, and a stirrer or straw, all wrapped together in plastic.

So if I wanted a single serve of sugar, I had to open the entire pack.

On a flight there’s also loads of plastic used to wrap all sorts of things — blankets, amenity kits, pajamas, cutlery sets, as well as using plastic for cups and cutlery anyway. Each airline will have a slightly different recycling program, but it would be my guess that most of this plastic makes its way into landfill.

Hi Fly is a Portuguese charter airline. We’ve written about them before as they have been operating flights for Air New Zealand and Norwegian (among other airlines), as they struggle with engine replacement accelerations on their Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

On December 26, 2018, Hi Fly operated the world’s first flight (from Lisbon, Portugal, to Natal, Brazil, using an Airbus A340) with no single use plastic.

This meant no plastic cups, no plastic cutlery, no plastic packaging. They used bamboo to replace some of these items.

Hi Fly plans to completely phase out all single use plastic by the end of this year.

They have explained this initiative as:

We can no longer ignore the impact plastic contamination has on ecosystems, as well as on human health. We know, too, from the feedback we have received from client airlines and passengers, that it’s the right thing for the airline to be doing.

I am a bit surprised to see that Hi Fly was the first airline to do this, as it would have been a decent cost and logistical burden on them to do so, and given they are a charter airline (meaning they are not marketing or selling tickets themselves), I’m surprised this was a priority for them.

I would love to see other airlines follow this, but then there is the consideration of how an airline delivers clean, new amenities to passengers without sealing them properly. I hate wasting plastic but would want my blanket somehow sealed to indicate it had been washed before using it.

Perhaps they could wrap some items in paper or a different recyclable/degradable material?

Bottom line

Hopefully other airlines will follow this initiative, although these will undoubtedly be more expensive than plastic options, so I would be surprised to see low cost carriers do so.

I could see smaller boutique airlines, like JOON, adopting this and then using it as a selling point.

One of the reasons plastic has become so popular around the world for things like cutlery is because it is so cheap to manufacture — bamboo will be more expensive.

While the logistics of implementing an optional “plastic free surcharge” might be too complicated, it would be nice to see airlines introduce some sort of initiative to make this work.

Would you be willing to pay more for a flight with no single use plastic used?

Comments

  1. Kudos to Hi Fly for thinking about sustainability. Did they talk about what happens to the cutlery and other packaging used on the flight? Is it all composted? Reused?

    Not lost is the irony that the plastic cutlery probably accounts for a minuscule percentage of the environmental damage done by the flight. If they figured out a way to run the engines off batteries or solar power that would be worth talking about.

  2. I wonder about water bottles and the weight difference between plastic and glass since weight is such a cost factor in airlines.

    Reusable cutlery and glassware are good ideas, it again, more weight.

    It seems that the reusable things are normally reserved for premium cabins. Is reusable now a sign of luxury while disposable a sign of economy?

  3. Does the UK or australia not recycle plastics? my home recycling container is stuffed full and almost nil in the trash container

  4. I adore flying, but this is one area that really depresses me – the amount of plastic used on flights is insane and there has been zero effort on airlines to do anything about it. Even fluffy airlines like Virgin Atlantic pay lip service to being green, but in reality virtually nothing is recycled. Air travel is so technologically advanced and efficient these days, surely they can come up with something better than the plastic horror that is the current status-quo???

  5. absolutely insane to focus on plastic straws used on-board instead of the actually harmful part of flying–the amount of jet fuel that it takes to get you from point a to b.

    the plastic used is trivial, and there’s no way to litter on board a plane.

    a dumb publicity stunt.

  6. Hi Fly gets the biggest, most passive-aggressive eye roll from me.

    An airline that uses the most fuel-inefficient bus of an airplane (the A340) is being applauded for its commitment to the environment by having a “plastic-free flight”?

    Why don’t they start recycling, or reusing cutlery, like Qantas has for years?

    I’m sorry, I appreciate the article, but this is so over-hyped and from an airline like Hi Fly, slightly hypocritical.

  7. Maybe I am wrong, but would it not be much better for the environment if Hi Fly (and all airlines) replaced their fuel inefficient A340’s.

  8. Airlines will help the climate more by not serving dairy and meat on board. Animal farming causes more greenhouse gases than exhaust given out by all fuel vehicles in the world, including airplanes.

  9. James,

    You say that americans use a lot of plastic. They do. But I still think that Asians use a lot more plastic than anyone else. This is what I’ve come to assume after traveling there.

  10. 90% of the plastic in the oceans comes from Africa and Asia, but don’t let your narrative get in the way James.

  11. I’d expect a small to medium airline (not low cost) to be next since a big airline would have to pay way more to remove plastic and it may not be worth it cost-wise (obviously it’s worth it for the environment).

  12. Mike that statistic is a Trump stat. Africa and Asia are the big culprits but its not 90% and you could have been honest but lying with conviction must feel better..

  13. How much of that waste dumped by Africa and Asia originated in the US or Europe? BTW, you do know that Joon is being discontinued by Air France?

  14. It’s incredibly depressing how ignorant people are about the environment. Plastic pollution is a COMPLETELY different thing to greenhouse gas emission.

    While the comparative damage may be more from the fuel than the plastics, it’s quite frankly moronic to take the position that plastic pollution is fine because there’s lots of other pollution too. Perhaps it’s also fine for me to throw my trash in the river, because the emissions my travel produce are a bigger issue?

  15. FYI for the person who said you can’t litter on a plane- many countries take trash and drop it in the ocean instead of a landfill. And plastics can usually only be recycled once, unlike metals that can be recycled virtually unlimited times or paper products that can be recycled around ten times.

  16. Composite bamboo cutlery is actually more pleasant to use than plastic. It is also compostable, and if even thrown away is bio-degradable. On the soft plastics front, bio-degradable single-use supermarket bags and the like are common, so if there is a will airlines and others could easily transition to custom bio-degradable products.

  17. What a fascinating idea. Of course, most airlines serve their best customers with reusable products, but washing costs more money than plastic disposables. And good grief, yes, the plastic in the oceans is not from first world countries with advanced waste disposal systems. So that plastic fork you used on board isn’t the culprit. But it gets you thinking about how much waste there is in modern life.

  18. @Bratty, I don’t think the World Economic Forum is influenced by Trump. This backs-up @mikes statement:

    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/90-of-plastic-polluting-our-oceans-comes-from-just-10-rivers/

    “By analyzing the waste found in the rivers and surrounding landscape, researchers were able to estimate that just 10 river systems carry 90% of the plastic that ends up in the ocean.

    Eight of them are in Asia: the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong; and two in Africa – the Nile and the Niger.”

  19. @James
    “I hate wasting plastic but would want my blanket somehow sealed to indicate it had been washed before using it.”

    And yet you don’t seem to need your metal cutlery sealed in plastic to indicate they’ve been properly washed – laid on the table or wrapped in a napkin is ok?

    What about the crockery or glassware for your J class meals – does that have to be individually sealed in plastic, too, or do you take it on trust that it’s been properly washed?

    There was a terrible scandal a few months back at an upmarket London hotel, where the maid had taken to washing the bedroom glassware in the toilet bowl before sealing each glass in a hygienic plastic wrapper. Yeah.

    You take your life in your hands every time you eat food prepared by someone else – a restaurant or a commercial kitchen serving an airline – without giving it a moment’s thought. Yet you demand your airline blanket is sealed in plastic to prove its cleanliness?

    Equally, recycling is good; metal cutlery is pretty environmentally efficient. And yeah, Hi-Fly is bragging about one environmental element while ignoring the A340-sized elephant. But, as my mother always said, 2 wrongs don’t make a right. At least they’ve started and, if being a bit less environmentally-unfriendly gets good feedback, hopefully they’ll keep making improvements. And others will follow.

  20. Maybe the poor standard USA carriers should take note and stop plastic cups being used for pre take off drinks in the premium cabins.

  21. @Mike
    @Scott
    This statistic doesn’t take into account the waste export by developed nations, the amount of plastic that doesn’t get into the ocean (but not gets recycled) because water treatment is better is the developed nations and the fact that 75% of the world’s population live either in Africa or Asia, so 90% isn’t that far off.

  22. I think the most important thing here is to get people thinking about their use of plastic and what happens after. Use a totally unnecessary plastic straw for 10 minutes and then throw it away for it to sit in a landfill for 400+ years only to break down and seep into the water supply? Use a plastic bag to carry something home once??? I look back on my former self and think “I can’t believe how selfish I was. I wish I had started earlier”.

  23. Many European Airlines separate glass-plastic-paper, on a regular basis, for recycling

    They have been doing that for many years already

  24. Pan Am was flying plastic free decades before you were born.
    It was called China, crystal & silverware back then.

  25. It’s great that one airline has started to do this, and would be awesome if it became a trend. Airline use of single-use plastics is absolutely massive. On an ultra-long-haul flight on an A380 it’s quite easy for a crew to get through multiple thousands of plastic cups, for example.

    It would be great if every airline could switch to the very latest fuel-efficient planes but come on guys we have to start somewhere.

    To those saying 90% of plastic waste comes from Africa and Asia that’s in part because large amounts of the plastic waste from the west are exported there for disposal. the U.K. for example exports a significant portion of not a majority of “recycling” waste to Asia for “processing” and that is what happens to all those single use plastics you put in the recycling bin…

  26. All airlines flying to some European Countries, like Austria, have to separate glass-paper-plastic for recycling

    If they do not comply with the recycling regulation they will be fined

  27. @mike, and how many polluting factories do US and European companies have in Asia and Africa? Perhaps the plastic in the ocean you say originated from these continents is simply by-product for all the cheap plastic junk made for the Walmarts in the world…

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