27 March 2007
Today, while I was booking a flight to Sydney with Virgin Blue, I noticed a new ad on their site promoting a feature called Carbon Offset. I'd heard about being carbon neutral before, but had thought it was only something that Beverly Hills vegans could afford, so I decided to have a click and see what they had to offer.
Carbon Offset turned out to be a new service from Virgin Blue that allows you to offset the amount of greenhouse gases produced whenever you take one of their flights. Whether you consider carbon offsetting to be effective or not, it's a great show of support for environmentally friendly practices by the airline, especially for a service which is one of the most environmentally damaging things that an individual can partake of. I was particularly surprised by the cost of offsetting. In my case, the price for offsetting a return flight from Melbourne to Sydney was $1.47. I'd have thought it'd be upwards of thirty dollars.
The only downfall I can see with Virgin Blue's system is the fact that the Carbon Offset payment has to be done through an entirely different system – you have to pay separately from the actual flight, after you've received your itinerary, and you have to re-enter all your details again. I think it would have a far greater impact if there was a big bold checkbox at the end of your flight choice saying "I would like to offset the greenhouse gas emissions of my flight". The server could go off and calculate the cost of the offset when you press submit, then display the price on the confirmation page before you finalise your credit card details.
With that sort of workflow the issue would be brought to the attention of customers in a much more pointed fashion, and they wouldn't have to go out of their way to save the environment, so you'd get a much higher conversion rate.
I know that it might (minimally) interrupt the flow of the actual airline ticket purchase, but I think that's a small price for Virgin to pay if they're truly committing to environmentally sound practices.
All that's a minor gripe, though. Virgin Blue should be congratulated for their efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions, and I'm sure they'll make improvements to the system as it becomes more mature.
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