Southwest Debuts “Green” Plane

by  Suzanne Steinert | Oct 22, 2009
Southwest Airlines plane
Southwest Airlines plane / Boarding1Now/iStock

It’s no newsflash that airplanes comprise one of the most polluting means of modern travel: just consider the exorbitant amount of toxic gases jet engines cough into the atmosphere. In light of the drastically fluctuating fuel prices and environmental concerns of late, a desire to curb emissions and find alternative sources for jet fuel has not escaped the airline industry. Just last week, Qatar Airways powered the world’s first commercial flight using fuel made from natural gas – no surprise, given that the country is home to one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves. Believing “environmental decisions aren’t just good business sense, but the right thing to do,” Southwest Airlines is one of the first carriers thinking beyond the fuel-filled box. Yesterday, the airline debuted its first “green” plane, with its inaugural flight having occured last night between Dallas (where Southwest is headquartered) and Seattle.

Most of the 4-year-old 737’s cabin has been revamped in an eco-friendly fashion, replacing old textiles with more sustainable materials – like 100% recycled carpeting made from a completely carbon-neutral process. Heavy, canvas life vests have been switched with lighter versions, and aluminum seat parts phased out for plastic. Instead of regular leather seat covers, PETA-ns will love the new faux alternatives, which are man-made and twice as durable. The changes have lightened the plane an average 5 pounds per seat, which, though a fraction of its remaining multi-ton weight, is significant in light of other company-wide initiatives, like banning Styrofoam cups, and using a chemical-free engine cleaner that has zero runoff and reduces fuel burn. Plus, November 1 marks the kickoff of the airline’s new onboard recycling program, after nearly 2 years in the making.

Southwest will “test fly” the green plane’s new digs on multiple flights to see how customers respond and the changes hold up – we're hoping this will set the precedent for an airline industry that finds it's easy being green!

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