First Plastic-Free Commercial Flight Takes Off

Heading into 2019, one  trend in the industry that we’re keeping a close eye on is the desire for more sustainable, environmentally-friendly travel options.

Sustainability means different things to different people. For some it’s a case of recycling and using public transport, for others it means going full Vegan and never setting foot in a car again.

The sad fact is that air travel is one of the most destructive consumer habits, at least in terms of its carbon footprint. But let’s face it: It’s not going to stop anytime soon, particularly as the global travel industry relies so heavily upon it.

Instead, travellers are looking for operators, accommodation and experiences that have a sustainability ethos in line with their own environmental ethics and concerns. This might mean finding an activity to do in another country that goes hand in hand with conservation: volunteering at a monkey sanctuary, planting trees, that kind of thing.

But, as we explored last summer, the wider industry is slowly waking up to a simple truth: protecting the natural world goes hand in hand with the travel industry’s long-term future.

Because of that, hotels and airlines are taking steps to make their operations greener. Last year, Alaska Airlines became the first airline in the US to ban straws on its flights. RyanAir pledged to become plastic free by 2023 as part of a five year ‘Always Getting Better’ plan.

palstics waste

Read more: In Depth With Zen Resort Bali

Hilton announced plans to eliminate the use of straws in all of its 650 global accommodations, as well as plastic bottles from its conferences, by the end of 2018.

So things are going in the right direction, particularly with regards to single-use plastic waste – so often an unnecessary luxury that the majority of travellers can do without and won’t miss too much.

Which brings us to wet-lease specialist Hi Fly. The Portuguese company is a go-to organization for airlines when they need extra capacity in the short to medium term or during peak season, as well as an on-demand carrier for government officials and defence personnel.

The Hi Fly brand is operated by two affiliated airlines, one based in Portugal and the other in Malta.

Hi Fly operate the world’s first plastic-free flights

To top off all of that positive environmental travel news in 2018, at the end of the year Hi Fly operated the first-ever passenger flight without a single single-use plastic item on board.

The ‘plastics-free’ trial involved four flights by Hi Fly’s Airbus A340. The first flew into the history books on December 26th when it took off from Lisbon on its way to Natal, Brazil.

Over 700 passengers took part in the trial overall.

Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri said the move was just the beginning, as part of the airline’s wider environmental ambitions. “This historic Hi Fly flight, without any single-use plastic items on board, underlines our commitment to making Hi Fly the world’s first ‘plastics-free’ airline within 12 months,” he said.

“We take that commitment very seriously. We are obviously excited and delighted that Hi Fly will be the first airline to attempt such a feat.” – Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri.

It may well be that Hi Fly’s relatively small operation makes it a lot easier to make these kind of wholesale changes.

Having said that, its bigger competitors have reacted to the news with similar commitments. As touched upon earlier, RyanAir’s five-year plan to become “the greenest airline” will soon mean “initiatives such as a switch to wooden cutlery, bio-degradable coffee cups, and the removal of plastics from our range of in-flight products,” according to chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs.

Rival easyJet also confirmed this week that they are “currently introducing new hot drinks cups which use a plant-based lining and are compostable and replacing plastic drinks stirrers and spoons with wooden alternatives,” speaking to Telegraph Travel.

“These are the first steps in a wider programme to review and where possible replace single-use plastic items on our flights. We also already offer a 50p discount on hot drinks for customers who use their own reusable cup.”

Read more: The Challenges of Mass Tourism in the 21st Century

Preventing needless pollution

The human footprint left behind at some of the world’s most popular travel destinations is bad enough. But the trouble with plastics and their increasing concentration in our oceans is that they are likely to wash up in all sorts of places.

Single-use plastics, such as shopping bags and drinking straws, represent the epitome of our globalised, consumerist world: Cheap enough to make and use to be totally disposable, but everpresent and totally non-biodegradable. The result is that they clog up the very places travellers want to travel to.

Not to mention their impact on the natural world. One million seabirds die each year die from ingesting plastic, for example.

“Our corporate mission is based around sustainability and we work hand in glove with the Mirpuri Foundation to make sure that our corporate practices match our wider responsibilities to the planet,” says Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri.

“The test flights will prevent around 350 KG of single-use, virtually indestructible plastics from poisoning our environment. Over 100,000 flights take off each day around the world and, last year, commercial aircraft carried nearly four billion passengers. This number is expected to double again in less than 20 years. So, the potential to make a difference here is clearly enormous.”

“We know we may encounter some initial teething problems, but we are confident of addressing these over the coming months. We know, too, from the feedback we have received from client airlines and passengers, that it’s the right thing for the airline to be doing.”

“Future generations will remember small steps taken today”

Pedro Ramos, the Director-General of Tour operator Alto Astral, the company who chartered the flights between Lisbon and Brazil, said he was delighted that his company had participated in what amounts to a small but key industry event.

“Everyone at Alto Astral is excited to be involved in this adventure and we believe that future generations will thank those of us who have been prepared to stand up to try to make a difference now. Hi Fly has long been the leader in the field of corporate environmental responsibility and sustainability, and they have rightly identified, as a key objective, the early elimination of plastics pollution. It’s been great for us to see how, in practical terms, they have gone about replacing so much in order to kick-start this elimination process.”

“All together for a better world, we say.” – Pedro Ramos, Director-General of Tour operator Alto Astral.

So what does plastic-free mean in reality?

Well, among the many single-use plastic items that have been replaced are cups, spoons, salt and pepper shakers, sick bags, packaging for bedding, dishes, individual butter pots, soft drink bottles and toothbrushes.

Put that way, you can see why making the shift across a huge airline is going to be a big task. Finding the right suppliers around the world is no mean feat. But at the same time, it’s also a sign of how small changes can make a big difference.

Hi Fly’s environmental team used bamboo cutlery, no shortage of paper packaging and containers that, once used, could be easily composted.

The first plastics-free test flight was Hi Fly first major step to making its entire fleet ‘plastics free’ by the end of 2019. For the global players in the travel industry, these steps are tricky to implement but easy to justify. And with a groundswell of traveller opinion in support of moves just like this, hopefully all of our travel will be looking greener in the near future.

In Depth With Zen Resort Bali

Something a bit different this week, folks. Instead of delving into a particular travel market sector, we’re going to be taking a closer look at one specific company in the industry. The operator in question is Zen Resort Bali, one of Bali’s leading holistic health retreats. We’ll be speaking with founder Dr Mahendra Shah, and exploring what lessons we can take away and apply to the industry as a whole.

Here we go.

A bit of background

Before we get started we need some perspective. We need to understand a little about Zen Resort Bali, its purpose and what makes it unique.

The key to that is founder Dr Mahendra Shah. He has dedicated his life to ethical development, holding senior positions at the United Nations and the World Bank while advising governments on sustainability. His central philosophy is that sustainability on a global scale cannot be achieved unless human beings themselves become sustainable.


As he moved into the travel industry, Dr Shah decided to open up a luxury resort in Bali – not solely because it represented a good business opportunity, but because it was also an opportunity of a different kind: a chance to convert and inspire. A way to incorporate holistic wellness and sustainable health into an experience that encouraged global travellers to spread the philosophy far and wide.

Dr Shah admits that health is one of the single biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. We are eating worse, exercising less and losing our sense of connectedness. Travel has long been a tool of inspiration, so why not promote a more sustainable lifestyle through a holistic and wellness sanctuary?

Solving a problem

The first point that we can take from Zen Resort Bali is that it was clearly founded to solve a problem. In this case, the problem is huge in scale. As Dr Shah says, “Why are human beings not sustainable? Simply because all around the world we are adopting or aspiring to adopt modern lifestyles, which comprise little time to prepare and eat nutritionally balanced food, combined with inadequate and regular exercises – physical, psychological and spiritual, stress at work, stress in the home and living in an ever more polluted world… we are left depleted.”

“This cocktail of an unhealthy lifestyle is increasingly recognized as the cause of the emerging worldwide healthcare burden of diabetes, high blood pressure, mental stress, cancer, asthma and many more ailments and debilitating diseases.”

As a result, he says, “We are facing a global, emerging crisis of human health. The scope of this is such that most nations will not have the healthcare resources to confront the ailments and the diseases of modern lifestyles. Modern lifestyles are also resulting in our love of more and more consumerism. This “throwaway” society is the fundamental source of the escalating land and water pollution around the world. This environmental destruction and degradation is the second major challenge facing the world in the 21st century.”

The Yoga Hall, Zen Resort Bali

The Yoga Hall, Zen Resort Bali

So the point is this: Our hectic modern lifestyles require more than just a holiday, because they are symptomatic of much wider problems. If people are going to rise up and solve the enormous challenges we face as a species, they’re going to need to be inspired. The key here is that any global change has to begin on an individual basis. It’s that individual transformation that Zen Resort Bali offers its guests.

What can we learn?

It’s an age-old business strategy for good reason. If you want to be recognised as adding value to the market, you need to be solving a problem (or attempting to solve a problem) that isn’t being taken on elsewhere. In Zen Resort’s case, the problem is huge but approached at the level of the individual.

Visitors can come, experience all the luxury and pampering of a traditional spa break while leaving with something a whole lot more important than a sun tan – the inspiration required to live a more sustainable life, psychology, physically and spiritually.

Standing out from the crowd

sustainable travel at resort bali

On the face of it, Zen Resort Bali might appear to be a luxury wellness resort like any other. But actually, there are several factors helping it stand out from the crowd.

First and foremost is the focus on sustainability. Plenty of getaways can offer luxury, seclusion, spa treatments and breathtaking views. But very few have built a resort with a focus on sustainability and ancient holistic health techniques.

And Zen Resort clearly has an emotive story to tell prospective guests – about themselves, the world and how a trip to Zen can benefit the relationship between the two.

“At Zen Resort we encompass strategies that are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable,” says Dr Shah. “We use solar power to produce hot water and we recycle water in the resort to nourish the landscape as well as irrigation to grow organic vegetables and culinary and medicinal herbs.”

“We financially support local small-scale information and education on sustainable fishing and marine conservation. We facilitate employment and other livelihood opportunities for the local community, develop and market local food, health and beauty products, advise local farmers on crop agronomy – especially medicinal plants. Furthermore, we promote subsidized holiday stays for doctors and the healthcare community willing to give a few days of their holiday for local community health and education services.”

In short, this is a resort with a focus on the ethics and sustainability that many travellers are passionate about, without sacrificing the luxury and wellness that broadly appeals to all.

There is an inescapable consequence of this focus on sustainability. The extraordinary care and attention from the staff and toward the environment leads to guests feeling a renewed energy and zest for life.

What can we learn?

They key to Zen Resort Bali’s success is its diversity. But this isn’t diversity in the sense that it ticks as many boxes as possible. The resort is founded on a handful of ideals that have been honed to perfection. The philosophy behind the resort is clear to see, and though elements such as ‘luxury’ and ‘sustainable’ might appear at odds with each other at first viewing, they work hand in hand here.

For example, as well as offering a complete wellness package that spa and Ayurveda fans will love, community projects, seminars and a holistic focus offer guests a much more rounded experience than they would receive elsewhere.

Targeting two markets at the same time

Zen Bali resort yoga

Zen Resort Bali offers holistic health treatments with sustainability in mind.

In essence, Zen is targeting two markets a the same time: Health & Wellness and ethical tourism. As mentioned above, luxury health treatments and sustainability are not normally two things that travellers see together. But the unique philosophy Zen is founded on brings the two together with ease.

The result is simple: A retreat that manages to appeal to two separate markets, gaining traction and publicity for its work in both.

What we can learn

Being very good at a small number of things is a fast way to gaining a strong footing in whichever travel niche you choose. If you, like Zen Resort Bali, can seamlessly bring together niches that don’t traditionally go together, you’ll be on to a winner.

Zen Resort has also been able to drive traffic to its website by dominating localised search results for these two separate niches.

How Zen Resort Bali diversifies its offering

From reading the above you might think that Zen Resort Bali brings together holistic health, sustainability and luxury. That’s exactly right, but it’s done in practice, not just philosophy. For example, the resort has created its own scuba diving package, Zen Harmony Diving.

“We have the responsibility to increase public awareness and actions towards protecting and conserving the world’s sacred oceanic resource.” – Dr Mahendra Shah, founder, Zen Resort Bali

“Whilst some three billion people in the world live in coastal areas with easy access to the oceans, less than 60 million people have experienced scuba diving and snorkelling,” says Dr Shah.

“Zen Harmony Diving is a unique concept that unites the best of yoga, Ayurveda and scuba diving and enables scuba divers to discover the beauty and amazing diversity of marine life whilst experiencing an exceptional pathway to human health and fitness. This is done through the effective practice of underwater controlled breathing, meditative focus and free flow physical exercise.”

“Our shared vision of Zen Harmony Diving is to co-create and revolutionise the world of diving to substantially increase the community of scuba divers and snorkelers. Through their leadership, we want to enhance wider public awareness of the need to change our interface with all forms of marine life and protect the oceanic world, our largest and most precious natural resource.”

What we can learn

Developing new products is a sure way to grow revenue streams, particularly for travel marketplaces. If you can encourage sellers to bring unique and exclusive packages to your platform, travellers will keep coming back for more.

Zen Resort Bali has created a unique concept that will appeal to a wide range of people, from health and wellness fanatics to water sports enthusiasts.

The importance of leadership

There’s no doubt that Dr Shah’s enormous experience in sustainability and environmental ethics are the key driver behind the Zen Resort project. He wants to create a chain of luxury resorts that spread the philosophies of ethical tourism and holistic health, teaching people to be sustainable humans for the long term in the process.

Embrace your humanity and grasp the hand of your neighbour; it’s simple, just show that you care. Very importantly, make that partnership and commitment for sustainable lifestyles, for sustainable development, and to create a world of sustainable human beings – Dr Mahendra Shah

And that’s where Zen manages to differ from conventional resorts. It’s been created from the ground up to be a life-changing experience. That drive comes straight from the top.

What we can learn

We know the importance of leaders in the travel industry. But while they provide the vision (and often the capital) it’s still vital to have an efficient team in place to put into practice those ideals. Read our piece on the importance of building a good team for more information on that.