Sometimes it really is the little things that count.
Proving they're on track to be the coolest airline flying, Virgin America is going out of their way to promote "water bottle refill stations" at San Francisco International Airport. The stations have popped up immediately after the security checkpoint to encourage travelers to hang on to bottles they'd otherwise hand over to grimly indifferent TSA agents. Security will give folks the option to dump out the potentially explosive contents prior to security, take the empty bottle through, and then refill it after security with delicious filtered Hetch Hetchy water.
Technically speaking, nothing was stopping passengers from doing this in the past. The airport has always had water fountains and TSA has never objected to bringing empty bottles through. Most SFO terminals have refill stations, not only Virgin's. The difference is that Virgin has managed to turn
"recombobulation" into a branded experience to look forward to through clever marketing and promotion.
Why does this matter?
First of all, I've been railing against bottled water for years. The vanity! The foolishness! The waste! But at the end of the day, it's well seated in our culture to tote a bottle around. It especially makes sense on a long dry flight where in-flight service is scarce.
What tap water (and refillable water bottle) producers have always suffered from is a lack of marketing funds. Bottled water manufacturers have millions of marketing dollars to convince people that buying a premium priced plastic bottle of H2O is the thing to do, and let's face it, it is convenient if you're not the type to worry about waste.
What Virgin America has done is some of the best free marketing water can get: the refillable bottle is promoted not just "green," but simply common sense. And better still - a liberation from the TSA gauntlet. They'll even sell you a bottle if you don't have one. They've made refilling your bottle sexy.
The airport at large deserves the credit for building the refill stations in the first place, but Virgin's promotion takes it to a higher level. The project just makes people feel good. Judging by the number of replies on their facebook page, and the chatter on twitter, this simple little feat has a lot of environmentally indifferent people excited about the idea of not buying bottled water, at least at the airport.
Finally, making your customers feel good is a piece of common business sense that other airlines could learn a thing or two from. Frankly, so could airports. The cost of this project versus the buzz of goodwill it generates speaks for itself.
It really is the little things that count. Will other airlines and airports follow suit?
Nick Aster is the founder of TriplePundit.
TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place. It was acquired in 2017 by 3BLMedia, the leading news distribution and content marketing company focused on niche topics including sustainability, health, energy, education, philanthropy, community and other social and environmental topics.
Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He also worked for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.
Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.