In celebration of World Environment Day, the airline illustrated what the aviation industry can do to make flying less of a drag on resources in the future.

By Zee Krstic
June 07, 2019
Adam Drobeic / Getty Images

On a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles this week, United Airlines treated over 160 passengers to one of the first eco-friendly journeys that the aviation industry has seen. Coffee and tea were served in recyclable paper cups, with full-service meals on recyclable plates and accompanying compostable cutlery; sustainably-raised ingredients like lettuce and quinoa were packaged for passengers in new ways, including a beeswax cover on wraps that replaced plastic entirely. Inside the plane, all passengers-even those in economy-had the chance to experience the eco-friendly service, but what happened outside of the cabin demonstrates United's plans to reduce emissions by more than 50 percent over the next 30 years.

In addition to reducing cabin waste and introducing eco-friendly meal service, United also partially fueled the plane using biofuel made from agricultural waste, according to a company release. Pilots on the plane also reduced the amount of fuel they burned taxing on the runway by using only one engine as opposed to two. And in addition to all of those efforts, United worked with third-party organizations to purchase carbon offsets in order to reduce the impact on resources the flight had overall. This flight, which United ended up calling the "Flight for the Planet" and said was "the most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind in the history of aviation," could provide a glimpse into a future where airlines aren't adding to strains on the global environment, executives say.

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"It showcases our industry-leading commitment to becoming the most environmentally conscious airline in the world," Scott Kirby, United's president who also flew on the route, told USA Today. "Sustainability and our environment is something I've cared about for many years, going back to my days in college."

It's unclear if United Airlines plans to routinely offer flights where all of the eco-friendly initiatives are offered to passengers at once. The airline has been using biofuel, which enables planes to fly with 60 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, since 2016 on flights originating from the Los Angeles International Airport hub. In 2018, biofuels accounted for at least half of the one percent fuel mix at the airport, USA Today reports. "Someday we hope to have all of our flights powered by biofuel," Kirby said.

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