(CNN) — Japan Airlines (JAL) is asking some travelers to make an “ethical choice” by skipping meals on board their flights, but a representative for the airline says the measure is about reducing food waste, not cutting costs.
The JAL rep explains to CNN that the “ethical choice” option is currently only available on select overnight flights within Asia, as many passengers opt to sleep through the whole flight instead of wake up for the meal service.
Since the airline prepares a meal for every person on board, a passenger who would rather sleep through meal service — or who prefers the snacks they brought from home — results in wasted food.
The program was inspired by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, one of which is reducing food waste around the world. In Japan, companies have become competitive in their approach to meeting these SDGs.
It was first implemented on a trial basis on flights between Bangkok and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport in November. This five-and-a-half-hour flight is usually operated as a red-eye, leaving Bangkok at 10:40 PM and arriving at 5:40 AM the following morning. Because of the pandemic, relatively few people are flying, giving the airline the opportunity for a gradual rollout.
Guests can opt to forego their meal service ahead of time by going on JAL’s website or calling the airline once they’ve confirmed their flight reservation, similar to the way they might request a vegetarian or kosher meal in advance.
While many airlines offer the opportunity to say “no thanks” to meal service during the flight, JAL’s approach means that no extra meals are prepared and then thrown out.
In addition to the meal-skipping option, JAL recycles maintenance engineer uniforms into sound-insulating cotton fiber and has flight attendants use iPads in-flight to cut down on printing paper menus.
And this isn’t JAL’s only new initiative in 2020. In September, the airline dropped “ladies and gentlemen” and switched to more inclusive, gender-neutral greetings like “attention all passengers.”