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Frugal Flying

Airlines' quest to cut costs continues

Ann Schrader  Oct 28, 2009

Southwest Airlines has made lemonade out of lemons, squeezing a projected $100,000 annual savings out of eliminating the fruit from its beverage service.

As costs have soared, airlines have scoured operations to find efficiencies. A dollar saved here on labor-intensive, often-ignored items such as sliced lemons or plump pillows or a pound shed there with lighter cutlery can add up.

"Removing 100 pounds of unnecessary weight from each aircraft in the US Airways fleet results in saving approximately 450,000 gallons of fuel in a year," said US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder.

To lessen pain at the pump, jet engines are being washed more often to remove debris; pillows, ovens and entertainment systems are banished; enough beverages are stocked for just one-way flights; lighter seats, utensils and food-service carts are used; seat-back magazines are put on diets, and fuel for each flight is closely calculated with a margin for delays and diversions.

Some airlines are weighing whether heavy cockpit manuals ‚ÄĒ which can weigh 100 pounds ‚ÄĒ can be shared between pilots and first officers or go electronic.

"We all kind of learn from each other," Frontier Airlines spokesman Steve Snyder said. "Every single thing that goes on a plane, we ask, 'Do we need it? How much does it weigh?' and whether we can use less of it or make do without it."

Southwest, which axed lemons this month, has added life vests on all planes so it can fly over bodies of water to take the most direct routes.

Most airlines now taxi aircraft on one engine, plot better routes, fly planes at slower speeds and plug planes into airport gates to avoid running fuel-thirsty auxiliary engines.

Finding fuel-saving measures has gained intensity as prices creep up again, rising above $2 a gallon in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The Air Transport Association, a trade group whose members carry 90 percent of domestic air passengers, improved fuel efficiency 110 percent between 1978 and 2007.

"It makes good business sense, since fuel is an airline's No. 1 cost at up to 40 percent of operations, but it also has helped to protect the environment," said association spokeswoman Elizabeth Merida.

Some ideas are new, and some date back a few years.

Beginning this month, passengers on All Nippon Airways flights among three Japanese cities are asked to use the restroom before boarding.

"It's hard to gauge specifically if passengers are actually complying," ANA spokesman Justin Massey said.

Airline penny-pinching is nothing new. In 1987, Robert Crandall, then chief executive of American Airlines, ordered one olive removed from each first-class salad. The savings? About $40,000 a year.

Airlines' quest to cut costs continues
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