Air Travel Goes Green and Saves $$$ by Stopping the Mid-Air Potty Runs

Courtesy of Drudge, I came across this rather humorous article about one airline's extreme attempt to go green. According to the story, ANA is asking passengers to go to the loo before boarding select flights. The reason? "ANA claims that empty bladders mean lighter passengers, a lighter aircraft and thus lower fuel use." To enforce the bladder patrol policies, "Airline staff will be present at boarding gates in terminals to ask passengers waiting to fly to relieve themselves before boarding," which will hopefully lead to a "a five-tonne reduction in carbon emissions over the course of 30 days". I also suspect that the airline will save at least the cost of a business fare or two in the chemicals used to flush the on-board toilets (not to mention reduced soap and water use in the bathrooms).

But how smart is this policy over the long-term? Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a potentially deadly medical conditions that can impact anyone (including endurance athletes), is more likely to occur in those who are dehydrated or drink less. The logical extension of ANA's policy will be to serve fewer drinks to passengers as well (which could potentially drive up DVT rates). Moreover, while we can all respect the airline's attempt to go green even in these extreme measures, we should realize first that airline travel in general is a very high contributor to greenhouse gas emission in the first place. Simply telling people to "pee first or hold it" won't change that fact.

Despite these quibbles, I still find the idea fascinating and the calculations behind it entertaining. It reminds me of case questions of the type that management consulting firms use to interview candidates. I can almost hear it now: what is a creative way an airline could cut its greenhouse gas emissions involving bodily functions and how much could it expect to save in the process? The answer, according to ANA's own calculations, is enlightening: "Based on an average human bladder capacity of 15oz, if 150 passengers relieved themselves on board an aircraft, this would amount to 63.7kg of waste," which the airline must transport. Still, even given the savings associated with the pee-first policy, this avoided waste transport will still amount to only a drop in the bucket -- or would that be a drop in the you-know-what ...

Jason Busch

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