Is the most sustainable airline amenity kit the one that doesn’t exist?


How many of us have received amenity kits, taken them home and never opened the half-used mini-sampler products again?

I recently discovered an unopened amenity kit from an Emirates flight I took from Seoul to Dubai back in 2014! According to former Air Canada eCommerce Manager and frequent flier Christopher Morello, “airline kits are adult happy meal toys”. I couldn’t agree more.

On the last round trip Business Class flights I took with my family, I returned home with 8 amenity kits between all of us. I gifted a couple of items to the family, but most of the items disappeared into the black hole that is the kids’ room.

Yes, we felt special upon receiving them, and the kids checked out the contents of their “kids kits” immediately, but that was about it. It was a fleeting feeling. We could have left the half-opened, half-used, single-use items on the aircraft but carried them home. Then they were duly lost.

Travel is back, but do the single-use toothpaste, lip balm, foldable comb, and black socks need to come back as well?

With sustainability in the minds of passengers and airline executives, the most sustainable amenity kit would be one that doesn’t exist. Since that may not be an option for the industry, what can be the next closest option?

The Singapore Airlines model

For the longest time, Singapore Airlines has not had amenity kits for its Business Class passengers. Instead, the airline stocks essentials like mouthwash and razors in the lavatories. Other items like eye-masks and socks can be requested from the cabin crew. This reduces wastage, as there are no kit bags and passengers only ask for what they need. 

David Kondo, who leads Customer Experience at Finnair, agrees:

“Having the items stocked onboard on a request basis would reduce waste and emissions, reduce costs and also allow for some of those savings to be diverted to improving the quality of individual components/products for customers.”

However, very few airlines have been able to pull this strategy off.

The premium customer’s expectations have been set over decades of receiving these amenity kits. Now, if an airline takes them away, passengers may feel shortchanged. Hence, the status quo remains in many airlines. Some airlines, though, are still taking steps in the right direction.

The Skyteam-trio

The new Air France amenity kits are eco-friendly, including the contents. From a toothbrush made from maize straw to earplugs wrapped in kraft paper to avoid using plastic.

The kits, which are made from 96% recycled materials in Business and 89% in Premium Economy, are said to be designed as genuine gifts, as they can be kept, collected and reused after the flight.

In all cabins, each kit’s plastic packaging has been replaced by an integrity seal. In addition, the systematic cleaning and disinfection of headphones have enabled Air France to do away with the single-use earphone covers that were previously offered, as well as their packaging.

Across the Atlantic, Delta Air Lines has launched “Delta One” kits in collaboration with Mexican artisan-brand, Someone Somewhere and skincare brand, Grown Alchemist.

These kits have reduced over 90,000 pounds of plastic annually by eliminating 5 single-use plastic items like zippers and packaging and introducing recycled aluminium for its cosmetic packaging. 

Delta’s partnership with Someone Somewhere has generated jobs for hundreds of people in five of Mexico’s most vulnerable states.

Passengers can ‘meet the artisan’ who created their amenity kit and even send them a note, reflecting the hyper-transparency imbibed in the initiative. Though, the question remains about the contents of the amenity kit itself. 

Delta Air Line’s Skyteam partner, Saudia, found a solution to that.

The airline recently operated a flight as part of the Sustainable Flight Challenge where one could choose to have only the amenity kit “bag” without the contents and earn “green points”. After all, several passengers only want the kit as a collectable and not for its contents. 

Perhaps premium passengers should be able to choose some amenity kit items in the lounge before boarding. Learning from airlines that serve dinner in the lounge so they can carry one less meal. Less weight means less fuel burned and a more sustainable flight.

Roland Grohmann, the CEO of Formia, which is one of the largest providers of amenity kits to airlines, believes that:

“The future of the amenity kit requires re-thinking…Change is needed, and various airlines are working to shift to more personalised, sustainable, and socially responsible amenities programs with a focus on both passenger experience and passenger expectations.”

While amenity kits will not disappear overnight from airline cabins, it is encouraging to see the steps some airlines are taking toward a sustainable solution.

Ultimately, amenity kits are oh-so-George-Clooney-era if you think about it. How often have we exited a plane, walked through the Business Class cabin, and seen half-used amenity kits strewn on the seats next to the crumpled blankets? We need a new normal.