Discarded airline materials are upcycled into sports gear, soccer balls and handbags

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By Raymond Kollau,

We have reported before on ‘upcycle’ initiatives from airlines, with carriers such as KLM (uniforms), Finnair (seat covers, seat belts, curtains), Delta (seat covers) and Air France (life jackets) giving discarded airline interior materials a second life as stylish bags. The benefits are three-fold: waste is recycled, airlines add an eco-friendly touch to their brands, and many consumers like the story behind the upcycled product. Here a few more interesting recent examples.

Boeing: From carbon fiber to sports gear
Boeing and American manufacturer of sports equipment Russell Brands are working together to incorporate leftover carbon fiber from B787 Dreamliner production in Russell Athletic protective athletic gear. Composite materials make up 50 percent of the primary structure of the 787, including the fuselage and wing.

Boeing and Russell Athletic see significant benefits in using aerospace-grade carbon fiber because the carbon filaments provide a high strength-to-weight ratio and greater durability. Aerospace-grade carbon fiber is thinner, stronger and approximately 10 percent lighter compared to competitors.

An initial collaboration uses the material in Russell Athletic’s new CarbonTek football shoulder pad system. The aerospace-grade carbon fiber is strong, thin, light and durable, Boeing said. In football pads it also offers increased range of motion and secure fit for the athlete’s body.

Boeing says several “elite” college players from Division I universities will be wearing the CarbonTek during the upcoming football season, as well as Russell Athletic’s three pro football ambassadors: Pierre Garcon, Mark Ingram and Colt McCoy.

Southwest: From seat to soccer ball
After a large-scale interior redesign of many of its B737 aircraft, Southwest found itself with an excess of 80,000 leather seat covers — enough to fill the EmpireStateBuilding. “We had this idea of ‘could we do something with this leather beyond recycling it or shredding it? Could we repurpose it?'” says Marilee McInnis, the airline’s senior manager of culture and communications.

Southwest dubbed the initiative “Luv Seat: Repurpose with Purpose” and reached out to potential partners to take the used leather, but found that there were few takers. Read full article »

Southwest gives its 737 interiors a ‘green’ makeover

Southwest Airlines in October 2009 turned a B737-700 into a ‘beta-plane’ to test a series of sustainable interior materials, such as environmental-friendly leather and recycable carpet. This so-called ‘Green Plane’ has been operating in regular revenue service, so Southwest could evaluate normal wear and durability. Based on the in-flight test results and feedback from customers onboard the Green Plane, Southwest has just announced its new ‘Evolve’ interior, which will feature refurbished seats, more under-seat space, new carpets and a more stylish colour palette. Southwest says the materials used are “green” and lighter, reducing each aircraft’s weight by several hundred pounds per plane, thereby saving fuel and costs.

Seats, carpet
APEX reports that Southwest is retaining the B/E Aerospace-manufactured ‘Innovator II’ seat frames on its 737-700s, but will add fixed wing head rests, new, thinner, more durable foam fill, and synthetic ‘E-Leather’ seat covers – an eco-friendly, lightweight and scuff resistant alternative to traditional leather. The airline is also removing the under-seat floatation device – and instead adding smaller and lighter life vest pouches – to create weight savings of nearly six pounds per seat. A smart new feature are netted seat pockets, which have so-called ‘crumb catchers’ at the bottom that can be zippered open to allow the crumbs to come out. Furthermore, completely recyclable, carbon-neutral carpet from InterfaceFLOR will be laid in squares, rather than rolls, which eliminates the need for total carpet replacement.

The slimmer refurbished seats will also allow Southwest to reduce seat pitch from 32 to 31 inch and add an additional row on its 737-700s without sacrificing personal space. Southwest, however, emphasizes that “it was never our objective to add a row of seats, and the extra row isn’t the main reason for this redesign. Once we examined how much space would be saved, it was determined we could accommodate the increase, without sacrificing comfort.”

Sky Interior
Southwest will receive its first 737-800 ‘Sky Interior’ aircraft with the new Evolve interior in April 2012 and subsequently will start a retrofit of its fleet of 372 B737-700s. The operation is planned to be completed by the end of 2013 and represents an USD60 million investment. The airline, however, anticipates the new interior – coupled with the gain in seat capacity – will produce savings of about USD250 million annually.
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Airlines are experimenting with latest online phenomenon Groupon

In recent years, airlines have been experimenting with a wide range of non-traditional distribution channels, a development dubbed ‘Pricing Pandemonium’ by Examples include flash sales, happy hours, Facebook and Twitter-only fares, eBay and reverse auctions, as well as vouchers offered for sale in supermarkets and newspaper kiosks

Airlines are using these new platforms to temporarily offer heavy discounts without disturbing their main distribution channels. However, after initial experiments, some airlines also have made some of these new channels a more mainstream feature. For example, Tnooz reports that Air New Zealand has recently turned its popular reverse auction into an always-on service. ANZ’s ‘GrabASeat’ auction originally launched around three years ago and was only used ad-hoc to shift seats on specific occasions. However, as it did attract a reasonable following, the airline now offers a ticket deal through reverse auction every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. 

The latest online phenomenon that has caught the eye of airlines is Groupon, a web site and e-mail service that offers extremely discounted deals only if enough people sign up. Subscribers must first pay for a Groupon (‘group coupon’) that unlocks the deal. Typical offers include discounted hotel stays, spa treatments and restaurants and Groupon makes money by keeping approximately half the money the customer pays for the coupon. Groupon rapidly became hugely popular and is credited for making virtual coupon-clipping exciting by having offers expire after just a few hours and cancelling them if they do not attract a minimum number of buyers. 

Launched in November 2008, Groupon already had over 50 million subscribers worldwide by the end of 2010 and in December 2010 turned down an USD 6 billion takeover bid by Google. Meanwhile, Groupon’s success has attracted numerous competitors, including Facebook, which has just started a similar service called ‘Deals on Facebook’
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Southwest offers free access to iTunes via wireless in-flight portal

Southwest Airlines has partnered with Apple to create an entertainment download store called InAirtainment. To be used in the air or on the ground, the service takes the form of a website through which people can browse for music, movies or TV shows hosted on iTunes. Southwest says is it is receiving a small royalty from each download, which may be 5 percent if the airline is enrolled in the normal iTunes affiliate program. To promote InAirtainment, Southwest currently offers a playlist of 20 free songs from acts “about to fly” in their careers. 

Asked whether the main goal for the InAirtainment service is to provide Southwest passengers with an alternative for in-flight entertainment, a Southwest spokeswoman said that “Our goal is to make an one stop shop for all travel needs. Besides the option to book flights, car rentals, and hotels on our site, customers now have access to InAirtainment where they can download all their music and movies before they depart. is also available free of charge for customers on board our Wi-Fi-enabled aircraft. InAirtainment is a page within, so customers are able to access the content free of charge in-flight.” 

Gogo Video
The option to access iTunes for free on Southwest flights may be a sign of new in-flight entertainment options to come. For example, in-flight Wi-Fi provider Aircell last year announced plans for an in-flight video downloading service, called Gogo Video. This service would give passengers on Gogo-equipped aircraft (which number nearly 1,100 in North America) the ability to download movie and television content from an onboard server to their laptops via a portal similar to iTunes. According to in-flight entertainment expert Mary Kirby, Gogo however has delayed the introduction of the video service in order to further perfect it. 
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Innovative airlines 2011: #6 Southwest Airlines

At number 6 is Southwest Airlines (airline code: LUV), which carries more domestic passengers than any other airline in the U.S, and has evolved from a quirky regional airline to a national powerhouse without losing its startup, fun culture. Southwest is widely regarded as one of the most customer-centric airlines in the industry, encouraging its employees to make a difference. Southwest President Colleen Barrett describes a Southwest employee as someone “who dares to make mistakes; dares to be different; finds a way to utilize people’s special talents; and lives a little on the edge” (witness the Southwest pilot who recently held his plane so a passenger on his way to a funeral could make it, or the airline’s famous rapping flight attendant David Holmes).

Southwest is one of the very few U.S. airlines to go against the industry trend of charging for an increasing number of amenities. For example, the airline is the only major U.S. carrier that doesn’t charge to check a first and second bag which, according to a spokeswoman, is now among the top five reasons for customers to choose Southwest. Using its most visible assets as billboards, the airline put a ‘Free Bags Fly Here’ slogan on more than 50 aircraft with an arrow pointing to the cargo bin and tagged 1,000 luggage carts across its network with banners that say “I Carry Free Bags.”

Southwest also offers passengers that happen to be onboard during specific festivities an alcoholic beverage from the in-flight menu ‘on the house’. For example, in May 2010, Southwest offered Moms a free drink of their choice on Mothers Day, while service personal with military ID received a complimentary drink on Memorial Day.

As part of Southwest’s philosophy to give back to society, the airline’s ‘Share the Spirit’ program encourages employees to embrace local charities and nonprofits in destinations across its network. To pay tribute to its employee volunteers, Southwest in 2010 introduced ‘Tickets for Time’ which, for every 40 hours a Southwest volunteer dedicates to an organization, provides one complimentary roundtrip ticket on Southwest for fund-raising or transportation needs. Read full article »

Southwest ‘plane-vertises’ its bags fly free policy

While some low-cost airlines don’t shy away from turning their aircraft into flying billboards, Southwest Airlines is using its most visible assets – airplanes and ground support equipment – in an innovative way to advertize its ‘Bags Fly Free’ policy. The airline has put a “Free Bags Fly Here” slogan on more than 50 aircraft with an arrow pointing to the cargo bin, and also tagged around 1,000 luggage carts across its network with banners that say “I Carry Free Bags.”

Aimed at anyone who looks out the terminal window or the window from their airplane, Southwest’s ‘planevertising’ initiative is a smart way to target people at the time when they are most unhappy about having had to pay bag fees.  
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Southwest rewards volunteering employees with Tickets 4 Time

Southwest Airlines’ ‘Share the Spirit’ program encourages employees to embrace local charities and nonprofits in every destination across the carrier’s network. To pay tribute to its employee volunteers, Southwest Airlines is introducing a new program called ‘Tickets for Time’ (T4T). The T4T program is an addition to the Share the Spirit program and provides one complimentary, roundtrip ticket on Southwest Airlines for fund-raising or transportation needs for every 40 hours a Southwest volunteer dedicated to an organization. A nonprofit organization may receive up to six tickets a year through T4T and the hours can be accrued by one or more volunteers. 

T4T puts a nice twist on corporate volunteering programs, since rather than simply match donations, Southwest is offering their employees the opportunity to earn tickets for nonprofit organizations of their choosing. In Southwest’s words: “We know that our employees do so much for so many organizations and T4T is a great way for Southwest to applaud and encourage employee volunteerism.” Last year Southwest staff collectively volunteered more than 35,000 hours to nonprofit organizations across the country, about one volunteer hour to every Southwest employee. 
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Free giftwrapping LUV from Southwest and The Container Store

Packed with gifts for Christmas, many people across the U.S will be traveling by air this week. However, the Transportation Security Administration is asking air travelers to leave their gifts unwrapped in case they require secondary screening at the security checkpoint.

As in previous years, Southwest and home & office storage retailer The Container Store have teamed up to offer travelers a free gift wrapping service in the post-security areas at five airports across the U.S. Last Monday, December 21st, passengers with unwrapped gifts (or those who do a little last minute shopping at the airport) that travel through Baltimore-Washington, Dallas Love Field, Denver International, Phoenix Sky Harbor, and Saint Louis Lambert airports, can stop by one of several designated gate areas to have their items wrapped. And, in the spirit of Christmas, travelers don’t have to fly Southwest to make use of the free service. Read full article »

Southwest’s ‘Green Plane’ to test eco-friendly interior materials


Southwest Airlines has designated a 4-year old Boeing 737-700 ‘Green Plane’ to serve as a test-aircraft for a series of sustainable interior materials. For example, a 100 percent recyclable carpet is installed in sections, eliminating the need for total replacement of areas such as aisles, where Southwest currently uses 1 single piece of carpet. The carpet is returned to the manufacturer at the end of its service life and completely re-manufactured into new carpet. Also, two new leather seat covers (one recycled and one a leather substitute) will be tested, which are more durable and almost two pounds per seat lighter. To reduce weight, a lighter weight fill from foam in the back of the seats reduces weight, as well as life vest pouches made from canvas, instead of metal.

Overall, the uses more weigh-efficient materials  save the new plane approximately five pounds (2.3 kg) per seat, adding up to about a 472-pound (214 kg) difference, which is said to reduce 9,500 gallons (nearly 36,000 liters) of fuel each year. Additionally, Southwest expects the eco-friendly products to be more durable, which will save on materials and labor.
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