Why Japan Airlines Is Asking Passengers To Skip Meals

**Update: 12/14/2020 @15:02 UTC – Comment added from airline spokesperson.**

Japan Airlines has launched a new initiative to combat food waste on select flights in Asia. The carrier is asking passengers who know they will prefer to sleep through meal service to make an “ethical choice” and let the airline know beforehand.

Japan ethical choice meal plan
Japan Airlines is now offering customers on select flights to opt-out of meal service prior to departure. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

“Ethical Choice” option

With its new initiative, “Ethical Choice – Meal Skip Option,” Japan Airlines is asking those passengers who plan to forego eating the airline’s food to notify the carrier in advance. Just like submitting a request for a special meal, such as kosher, low-gluten, or vegetarian raw, customers can visit the airline’s website and choose “no meal” for their booking.

The option is thus far only available on select overnight flights within Asia. A representative for the airline told CNN that this is as many passengers want to sleep through the entire flight rather than wake up to eat.

Even if staying awake, some customers also choose to bring their own snack, rather than indulge in an offered tray to break up the monotony of a flight. The meals prepared for these travelers will then end up going to waste. This is exactly what Japan Airlines is hoping to avoid by providing the possibility to opt-out of the meal service altogether.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Japan Airlines, Boeing 777, Engine Failure
Thus far, the “ethical choice” option is only available on a Bangkok to Tokyo red-eye, operated by one of the airline’s Boeing 777s. Photo: Getty Images

So far only available BKK to HND

The option is thus far only available on JAL’s service JL034 from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) to Tokyo Haneda (HND). The flight departs from BKK at 22:05 and is usually operated by a Boeing 777.

The scheduled arrival time at HND is 05:40. Even though most of us have been guilty of the occasional midnight-snack fridge raid, the five-and-a-half-hour flight does not exactly operate on prime meal-time.

The opt-out-of-service feature was first introduced on a trial basis on November 19th and is available until 25 hours before departure. Passengers who apply are given a free amenity kit on board containing a moisture mask, an eye mask, earplugs, and a toothbrush.

Part of JAL’s work with sustainable development goals

A spokesperson for the airline told Simple Flying that,

“JAL has implemented a trial on our Bangkok to Haneda route since November 19, 2020, where customers now have the option to cancel inflight meals during the reservation process, which will allow customers to maximize their time to rest on the plane. Also, based on our SDGs movement at JAL, food loss has been an important issue to tackle, and this trial is a first step towards achieving the goal.” 

They further added that the service may be expanded, but that the airline is first awaiting customer feedback, which may take a while due to the limited number of people traveling at this time.

Japan Airlines hopes to combat food waste on at least one of its routes. Photo: Getty Images

Wasted food takes up 28% of the world’s agricultural area

While some airlines are taking steps to reduce single-use plastics, in 2019, the average airline passenger still left behind three pounds of waste from each flight. A big part of this is made up of packaging, cutlery, and food scraps. 20% of all food produced by in-flight catering teams is wasted each year.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, total global edible food wastage is 1.6 billion tonnes per year. The carbon footprint from wasted food production amounts to 3.3 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gases. It also equals 28% – 1.4 billion hectares of land – of the world’s agricultural area.

While reducing emissions is paramount for airlines’ sustainability work, food waste is also of pressing concern. If all passengers traveling globally were given a chance to let the airline know beforehand that they would be waving a polite no as the trolley passes in the aisle, how much food could that save?

Would you consider opting out of an in-flight meal given a chance? Let us know in the comments.