Japan Airlines’ rent-clothes-on-arrival scheme

 Friday, July 7, 2023

Starting on Wednesday (June 5), the carrier began a year-long experiment that will give passengers the option to ditch their suitcases and rent all their clothes on arrival in Japan.

According to the airline, the scheme is designed for travellers hoping to make a “sustainable choice” by reducing the weight of each aircraft, JAL hopes to cut fuel consumption and, consequently, carbon dioxide emissions.

What is this scheme that JAL has thought up?

It is called “Any Wear, Anywhere” — under which a prospective visitor to Japan can reserve their clothes up to a month in advance to use for two weeks, a newspaper reported.

Travellers must specify the purpose of their visit to receive the appropriate apparel, which will be delivered to their hotel or place of residence.

There will be a vast range of clothing options to choose from, according to JAL with packages starting from as little as 4,000 yen (roughly Rs 2,300).

So, a woman travelling on a business trip to Japan could pay 5,000 yen (roughly Rs 2,900) for a selection of five tops and three bottoms, including linen shirts, trousers, and an ankle-length skirt.

And where will the airline get these clothes from?

JAL has teamed up with Sumitomo, one of Japan’s biggest business conglomerates, for this project.

Sumitomo will be responsible for developing the reservation system as well as for the procurement, laundering, and delivery of clothes.

All clothing items available for rent will be obtained from excess stock of apparel and pre-owned clothing. Customers will have to pay if they damage the clothes.

What’s the reason for JAL to do all this?

JAL’s aim is reduction of baggage weight to reduce CO2 emissions and contribute to solving environmental problems, the airline has said in a written statement.

As the climate crisis intensifies, the debate around aviation emissions has been getting increasingly loud.

While air transport globally accounts for just about 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, if non-CO2 emissions, like water vapour, are also accounted for, the airline industry would be responsible for almost 5 per cent of the historical global warming, according to a UN report on climate change.

Passengers and airlines have been increasingly more cognizant of their carbon footprint and have made efforts to reduce emissions. This has resulted in specific fuel-efficient aircraft designs, routing that helps reduce fuel burn, and curbs on luggage carried by passengers.

The heavier an aircraft, the more fuel it burns and therefore, the more its emissions. JAL’s scheme keeps this principle in mind and offers a solution which it hopes will eliminate the need for any check-in luggage, even for long trips.

Till when will the scheme be run?

The trial period for the scheme, which will run till August 2024, will see JAL testing its environmental impact by collecting data on the weight of passengers’ bags.

As per the airline’s website, a 10 kg reduction in the weight of a passenger’s luggage results in an estimated 7.5 kg reduction in carbon dioxide emissions — equivalent to forgoing the use of a hairdryer for 78 days (based on an average use of 10 minutes per drying session).

The scheme has been launched amid the post-pandemic boom in travel to Japan.

According to data from the Japan National Tourism Organisation, almost 1.9 million people visited the country in May — an increase of almost 1200% compared with the same month a year earlier.

Is there a flip side to all of this?

Despite JAL’s claims, there are reasons to be sceptical about the scheme. Most notably, the alternative being pushed by JAL itself raises some significant environmental concerns.

Renting clothes are not exactly eco-friendly and laundering and packaging rented clothes will bring their own pressures on the environment. These will include potential water pollution and the use of plastics and detergents.

Most importantly, these clothes will then be shipped individually to customers’ hotels or places of residence. While it is unclear exactly what mode of transport will be used or how the logistics will work, the process can be expected to consume some amount of energy.

The difference in the carbon footprint of renting vs carrying will depend on all these factors. In any case, while evaluating the environmental impact of this scheme, it will be important to not just look at emissions reduced from the airline’s side.

What this scheme may do, however, is probably reduce JAL’s fuel costs, and help create a new affiliated industry for the airline to possibly profit from.

Much like rented cars are multi-million dollar affiliated businesses for some airlines, rented clothes might be the new fad.

If this scheme works, JAL will be able to reduce its own fuel consumption while effectively charging customers for it.

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