Coffee, Tea Or Carbon Credits?

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While most airlines are skimping on basics like food and pillows, one carrier is going in a different direction. Virgin America is selling environmentally conscious passengers the chance to fly guilt free. It's the first domestic airline to sell carbon-offset credits in-flight. Passengers concerned about their carbon footprint on a cross-country flight can buy the credits from their seatback screens. Virgin America directs the money to one of two green projects in California. So far, 1 percent of the airline's passengers have used the service.


There's an ever-growing list of things airline passengers have to pay extra for these days. One airline is offering another add-on for those who care about going green: the chance to fly guilt-free. NPR's Ben Bergman explains.

BEN BERGMAN: Need to fly, but feeling a little guilty about your carbon footprint? Well, Virgin America has the perfect solution. It's offering carbon offsets in-flight.

Mr. DAVID BARNETT(ph): What exactly is a carbon offset?

BERGMAN: David Barnett was checking in for a flight at Los Angeles International Airport when I explained to him that a carbon offset is when you donate a certain amount to something that's good for the environment, like planting a tree, that offsets something bad for the environment, like flying in an airplane.

Mr. BARNETT: How - I don't understand what that means, though. Like, how does that actually work?

BERGMAN: Well, in this case, when you donate, say, $10 to offset a trip from L.A. to New York, Virgin gives money to one of two California projects: one captures methane from manure, the other makes energy-saving devices for trucks. Most people I spoke with here weren't too enthusiastic, but a British traveler Mark Atkins(ph) said he would definitely buy the offsets.

Mr. MARK ATKINS: Yeah, of course I would, yeah. Have you seen the smog around this place? It's appalling.

BERGMAN: Virgin isn't the first airline to sell offsets. It is the first domestic carrier that allows passengers to buy them right from the seat back screens, though spokesperson Abby Lunardini says with customers watching every dollar right now, Virgin is taking a discreet marketing approach.

Ms. ABBY LUNARDINI (Spokesperson, Virgin Airlines): Our idea with this was to not push it on customers. So it's a selection from the menu, but it's certainly not, you know, advertised.

BERGMAN: So far, about one percent of Virgin America passengers have taken advantage of the service.

Ben Bergman, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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