Airlines are rewarding passengers who bring-their-own cup

Images by @all_things_H20 and Flight Report

“The paper coffee cup has long been a timestamp of the morning, a symbol of a certain kind of harried success.” This ‘sign of the times’ quote by food and dining platform Eater gives a good indication of our ‘to go’ lifestyle, but also how our perception of status is constantly changing.

As the vast majority of these disposable cups can’t be recycled, due to their polyethylene lining, coffee stores and F&B outlets have started to encourage customers to bring their own cup instead. What started as a niche behaviour by consumers who are looking for ways to consume more ‘guilt-free’, the bring-your-own-cup (BYOC) movement rapidly caught on in Anglo-Saxon countries like the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

And as the ‘war on waste’ is becoming mainstream, chains such as Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Pret a Manger, and McDonalds now also offer a discount to customers who bring their own cup.

Travel: On the ground

In the travel industry – the ultimate ‘to go’ environment – the first initiatives have also popped up. Below are a few examples, courtesy of our friends at Bringo, who are covering bring-your-own initiatives from around the world.

In the UK, Virgin Trains’ premium coffee service now offers a 20p discount for customers who bring their own cup. This premium coffee service is a partnership between Virgin Trains and Change Please organisation, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to fight homelessness in the UK.

Frankfurt Airport has introduced reusable bamboo coffee mugs with an airport-themed design. All restaurants located in the two terminals of the airport offer environmentally friendly cups to passengers, at a cost of EUR 12,95 including the first filling. There is also a discount (up to 50 euro cents, depending on the restaurant) for passengers who then bring their bamboo cup  (or any other kind of reusable cup). Over 2,000 cups have been sold sofar.

And Gatwick Airport has collaborated with Starbucks and Hubbub to launch the world’s first reusable cup trial. Customers who visit Starbucks at Gatwick’s South Terminal have the option to borrow a free reusable cup for their drink instead of the standard paper cup. Once used, the cup can be dropped off at one of the five ‘Cup Check-In’ points in the airport. Starbucks will be putting 2,000 reusable cups in circulation throughout the South Terminal, which will be collected, washed, and returned back to the store.

Images by Hydramate ,@PWaryszak , @Agentfox0071

Travel: Up in the air

Up in the air, bringing your own cup is still likely to raise some eyebrows, although airlines such as Air New Zealand welcome the pro-active move by passengers. Says the airline’s acting Head of Sustainability Anna Palairet: “It’s great to see more and more customers are bringing their reusable drink bottles and keep cups on board, and we encourage people to do this – our cabin crew team is happy to fill these.”

Qantas is another airline that is happy to fill passenger’s own cup, as this passenger’s response shows.

Furthermore, the bring-your-own-cup movement has resulted in many startups rethinking the design of travel mugs and make them nicer looking, leakage-free and made from sustainable materials.

One such company is Australian KeepCup, which has also partnered with Qantas and Air New Zealand for airline-branded versions that can be purchased via the airlines’ merchandizing websites (here and here). 


And in a forward-looking move, a few airlines – easyJet, Germanwings and British Airways – have embraced the BYOC culture by offering a discount to passengers purchasing a hot beverage.

APEX reported that earlier this year that Lufthansa Group’s low-cost carrier Eurowings kickstarted its ‘Bring Your Own Cup’ initiative, giving passengers a 20 percent discount on select hot beverages if they use their own mug.

Available across all Eurowings flights, both short- and long-haul, the discount applies to the 0.2 liter-sized coffee or black tea, reducing the price of both from EUR 2.50 to EUR 2.00.

Claudia Witt, product manager at Retail inMotion, said the initiative was devised as part of an ongoing ‘Innovation Group’, which sees the company regularly meet with Eurowings to discuss new ideas for its onboard retail program.

“We’re using this set-up as a test to see how passengers react to and adopt the system,” explained Witt to APEX. “As Eurowings has many frequent travelers, especially on domestic flights, we hope that they will soon adopt the initiative. We are aware that all our airline customers are constantly seeking out new ideas and innovations that have an impact on the environment, so this is definitely something we would be able to implement on other airlines.”

On a similar note, easyJet offers passengers bringing a reusable cup a discount of GBP 0.50 or EUR 0.50 on all hot drinks available on its in-flight ‘Bistro’ menu, a move that receives positive responses (here and here) from passengers.

And British Airways since May of this year gives a discount of 15 pence per hot drink when a passenger supplies his/her own mug. Furthermore, the airline’s buy-on-board menu features an (unbranded) reusable and compactable cup from Stojo for GBP 10.

Airline staff

Australia’s KeepCup has also partnered with Virgin Australia to supply reusable cups to the airline’s staff, including pilots and cabin crew.

Transavia France also has provided reusable cups to all its employees. Dubbed ‘This is Your Cup Speaking’, the recyclable cup replaced the disposable cups at Transavia’s headquarters, while flight crew are encouraged to bring their own cup onboard.

One of many incremental steps

As in-flight waste and single-use plastics reduction is gaining momentum – as this year’s plastic-free trial flights by the likes of HiFly, Etihad, Qantas, United and Air France show – ‘Bring Your Own Cup’ is a small, but very visible, initiative to show that airlines are not only working to substitute plastic materials with eco-friendly alternatives, but are also serious about generating less waste.

As Bringo’s Reinier Evers puts it: “The initiatives above are one step in the right direction, and create goodwill with the growing number of passengers who expect brands to finally get serious and pragmatic about sustainability. Now let’s discuss how we can tackle the enormous amounts of waste generated (willingly or not) by passengers: Water bottle refills instead of 1,000 small plastic bottles? Reusable coffee cups? Bring your own cutlery? Toiletry bags only if needed? While recycling is better than throwing away and incinerating (if at all), reusing and reducing is where it’s really at.”

Many more examples of Bring Your Own Cup initiatives from around the world and other examples of how companies – big and small – are working to reduce single use plastics at the excellent Bringo website.


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