Running an airline is a cutthroat business. Competition runs high, and profit margins are tight. So it’s no surprise that airline executives will jump on ways to control costs and allow them to fly planes just that little bit more cheaply. But one way that American Airlines stumbled upon in the 1980s may surprise you.
One way to cut costs is to reduce the amount of fuel needed to power the plane. And airlines continually seek ways to shave as much weight as possible from their aircraft. As United Airlines’ environmental strategy head Aaron Stash pointed out to TV station CBS News in 2018, “Any time we can reduce even an ounce of weight, that means we burn less fuel to fly to that destination.”
Airlines weren’t always so keen on watching their pennies. In the past, when times were good, they were more interested in competing for customers on the perks they could offer. Consequently, in the 1970s aircraft would often feature fancy lounges where flyers could grab a drink or two. American Airlines even toted a Wurlitzer organ in its piano bar.
But these days it’s all about reducing weight. For instance, United Airlines changed the paper that it used for its in-flight publication, losing an ounce for each magazine and gaining $300,000 in savings. Indeed, that airline has redesigned drinks carts and cargo containers to make them lighter, meaning less fuel is burned. This doesn’t just save money – it’s good for the environment.
Perhaps the top money-saver, though, was American, which had a simple but stunning solution to where it could find savings. It simply cut the number of olives that it served with its customers’ dinnertime salad by one. This simple change, across all its thousands of flights, saved $40,000, a decent amount in the 1980s. It all goes to prove, in the airline business, that every little counts.