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United Airlines Will Soon Start Using Biofuel

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Later this summer, one United Airlines flight will be routine in all ways but one. The plane, heading from Los Angeles to San Francisco, will be flying on 70 percent traditional jet fuel—and 30 percent biofuel. And this is no one-off gimmick: At first, just four to five flights a day will be flying greener, but after about two weeks, the biofuel—made of food scraps, farm waste, and animal fat—will be added to the airline's overall fuel supply.

This isn't United Airlines' first brush with alternative energy; they've been experimenting with biofuel in test flights since 2009, and in 2011 the airline became the first in the country to partially power a commercial flight with a biofuel when it flew a Boeing 737-800 from Houston to Chicago on a blend of regular fuel and algae-based biofuel. That flight was ground-breaking, but primarily just a publicity stunt—at the time, biofuel production was far too costly to constitute a reasonable alternative.

Now, with newer biofuel technology and a $30 million investment in one of the largest producers of aviation biofuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy, United is ready to make a more permanent commitment to the alternative energy. (The first flight this summer will use fuel from a different company, AltAir Fuels.)

Switching from traditional fuel to biofuel has two primary benefits for the environment. First is the drastic cut in carbon emissions, which airlines have been pressured to address for years. Although the biofuel will represent less than half the total fuel used by the airline at first, Fulcrum says that its technology can cut an airline’s carbon emissions by 80 percent compared with traditional jet fuel—an amount that adds up over hundreds and thousands of flights. This will help the airline industry meet its publicized goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to half of their 2005 levels—when planes emitted 318.5 million metric tonnes of carbon—by 2050.

Additionally, biofuel companies make use of the massive amount of organic waste humans produce: Studies have shown that 30 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is never eaten and makes up about 20 percent of landfills. Biofuels give this organic trash a new life as sustainable energy.

There are some concerns that biofuel isn't cost efficient or readily available enough to use regularly, but Fulcrum is pushing back against those claims. E. James Macias, Fulcrum’s chief executive, told The New York Times that his company could produce biofuel for "a lot less than" $1 a gallon, which would give airlines yet another incentive to make the switch: United bought its jet fuel for $2.11 a gallon, on average, in the first quarter. And in order to keep up their supply, Fulcrum has inked 20-year agreements with municipal waste management companies.

Although United Airlines will break barriers with their biofuel-powered flight this summer, they're not the only company looking to incorporate sustainable energy systems. British Airways is building a biofuel refinery near London’s Heathrow Airport, which will be completed by 2017; Alaska Airlines aims to use biofuels for flights from at least one of its airports by 2020; and Southwest Airlines has plans to purchase about three million gallons a year of jet fuel made from wood residues from Red Rock Biofuels. All of this is encouraging news coming from an industry that is one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon pollution around the world.

[h/t Grubstreet]

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Food
United Airlines Has Gotten Rid of Tomato Juice, and Customers Are Freaking Out
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Lovers of tomato juice are a small camp, but a vocal one. And they're furious that United Airlines has replaced their beloved Mott's tomato juice with Mr. and Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix on all flights under four hours, which includes most of its domestic runs. United said these changes are part of efforts to “streamline” its food service, the Chicago Business Journal reports.

The stealth substitution has fueled a rebellion among loyal tomato juice fans, as The Week points out.

There is some truth to the claim that tomato juice tastes better on flights. One study revealed that the noise level on an airplane affects our perception of taste, making savory or umami flavors more delicious. Another industry-funded study said the air pressure and humidity levels make bolder drinks seem more appealing.

Premium and economy passengers flying United can also say goodbye to Sprite Zero, Jim Beam, Courvoisier, and Amaretto, which were cut from the menu. And although airlines are not exactly known for their cuisine to begin with, passengers will likely start to see a difference in the types of meals being offered. The Chicago Business Journal writes:

"The reduction in food being offered in many instances in first-class and business-class cabins is not insignificant. Hot breakfasts are being replaced on some routes with only fruit plates and muffins, and more substantial lunches are being switched out for wraps and chocolate slabs."

The airline has said it is "monitoring customer feedback."

[h/t The Week]

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Live Smarter
This Travel Site Factors in Baggage Fees to Show You the True Cost of Your Flight
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If you're looking to find the best deal on airfare, there are more tools out there to help you than ever before. Travel sites allow users to compare ticket prices based on airlines and the dates of their trip, but the numbers they show don't always paint the full picture. Additional fees for baggage can make a flight that seemed like a steal at booking suddenly a lot less convenient. Fortunately for frugal flyers, KAYAK has found a way to work this factor into their equations, Travel + Leisure reports.

To use the fare search engine's new baggage fee feature, start by entering the information for your flight like you normally would. Flying from New York to Chicago and back the first week of May? KAYAK recommends taking Spirit Airlines if you're looking to pay as little as possible.

But let's say you plan on checking two bags on your flight—different airlines charge different baggage fees, so Spirit may no longer be the cheapest option. If that's the case, KAYAK includes a Fee Assistant bar right above the search results. After entering the number of carry-on and checked bags you'll be traveling with, the results will automatically update to show the true cost of your fare. Ticket prices for New York to Chicago rise across the board with the addition of two checked bags, and Delta now becomes the best deal if you're looking to book through one airline.

The new baggage fee assistant is one way for travelers to make savvier purchases when booking online. But even with the added fees included, you'll need to do some extra research to determine the true value you get from each ticket price that pops up. Wi-Fi, legroom, and in-flight meal quality are all factors that could make a slightly more expensive airline worth it once you board.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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