Virgin America Wants to Fill Your Bottle

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?


Is bottled water bad? Read more here.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of 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.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, 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 earned his stripes working 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.

7 responses

  1. Sure hope other airports follow suit. I regularly take my empty Kleen Kanteen through security and then look for a water fountain to fill it before getting on the plane. Successful in SFO and Indianapolis, almost impossible to do in Las Vegas, which had no visible drinking fountains, and sinks too shallow to fit the bottle in the restroom. (I was able to use my empty paper coffee cup to fill my bottle.) Good for Virgin America for encouraging the behavior change!

    1. I think this is a great move by them. Just as pam stated, due to being on like 5 different medications for my asthma, it’s important I have water on me when my mouth becomes dry, or I end up needing to take my meds on a long flight. Why pay for bottled water when this is a much better option.

  2. I’ve often wondered why people feel the need to carry water around with them, providing they aren’t hiking in the wilderness. Is it some kind of infantile thing? Seriously? Bottled water is a horrible, wasteful scam!

  3. I always carry a Nalgene when traveling and refill it inside security- kudos to Virgin for tipping people off to the fact that they can do it- I feel like it never crosses many people’s minds as I only have a few compatriots struggling to fit their bottles under the drinking fountain.

  4. Almost all restaurants in the airports, and anywhere, will give you tap water if you ask, or refill your water bottles. Or let you do it at their soda fountain water dispenser. Two thumbs down for the ones who refuse. I’ve taught my children to never pay for water unless absolutely necessary.

  5. @Mr Jimerson: It is NOT an *infantile* thing for some of us who are on meds that make their whole mouth dry out so much that their tongue sticks to their teeth and roof of their mouth when trying to talk! Besides, how do you know which bottle carriers are refilling at public fountains or are buying their bottles one by one?

    That being said, I am guilty, though not *infantile*, of buying bottled water in public. When I know I can find good, clean-tasting, filtered water wherever I am going, then I will bring a canteen around with me instead of buying bottled water!

  6. Old article, but regardless…

    Nick Aster, I assume you live in a great metropolitan area (or near one) and have no use for bottled water. I lived in the Chicago suburbs for 20 years and would have definitely agreed, bottled water is a waste of money. Then I moved to Arizona, where tap water is some of the most disgusting tasting liquid you will ever come across. Then I visited Detroit, where many homes have gone unrepaired leaving the water that comes out full of pollutants and rust, or having water disconnected completely. I have also been outside of the country in places like Thailand and Mexico, where you are strongly advised NOT to drink tap water, because their filtration is not adequate. Bottled water IS the only solution currently in place to solve these issues, and until we can solve the bigger issues at hand it will have to do.

    And to the poster who said they taught their children to never pay for water, you do pay for water, you just pay a more reasonable rate for it than $1+/bottle. When you are not in an ideal location for using tap water, it is DEFINITELY worth the money to purchase water. “Bad” water can cause harm to you very quickly, and a lack of water can as well. If you live somewhere where tap water is plentiful, cheap, and clean like I do in Chicago then great, enjoy the benefits, but know that most cannot enjoy the same.

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