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Airline News: Alaska's Tree-Based Jet Fuel, United's Basic Economy Fare

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On Tuesday, Alaska Airlines ALK has made history, becoming the first major airliner to man a commercial flight using renewable, alternative jet fuel made from “forest residuals.” The fuel is made from the limbs and branches of trees left over from harvesting of managed forests, according to the company.

Washington state-based Alaska Airlines flew commercially between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Reagan National Airport using a 20% blend of sustainable aviation biofuel; the airliner said it is “chemically indistinguishable from regular jet A fuel.” The renewable jet fuel was developed by the Washington State University-led NARA, or Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance.

"This latest milestone in Alaska's efforts to promote sustainable biofuels is especially exciting since it is uniquely sourced from the forest residuals in the Pacific Northwest," Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines' senior vice president of communications and external relations, said in a statement.

While one flight using this sustainable jet fuel won’t have that much impact on Alaska Airlines’ greenhouse gas emissions, the airline could reduce its emissions by roughly 142,000 metric tons if it could replace 20% of its entire fuel supply with the tree-based jet fuel at Seattle-Tacoma. That number is equivalent to eliminating 30,000 passenger vehicles off the road for one year, according to CNBC.

United Airlines’ ‘Basic Economy’ Fare

Also on Tuesday, United Continental UAL announced that it will become the first major U.S. airline to limit customers who paid low fare prices to just one carry-on bag that must fit under a seat. The company is hoping the move will help boost profit.

Travelers who buy United’s “Basic Economy” fare will have to wait to be assigned seats until the day of departure, which means that customers on the same ticket stand the chance of being split apart. The airline will also prohibit fliers who have bags that can only fit in the overhead bins, and these low fare customers cannot accrue miles towards “Elite” status.

In other words, travelers may become even more frustrated, stressed, and annoyed while flying.

United hopes the new business strategies will add $4.8 billion to its operating income every year by 2020, since more customers will likely pay to check bags or select higher flight fares that allow for more two free carry-ons. "Customers have told us that they want more choice and Basic Economy delivers just that," said Julia Haywood, United's chief commercial officer, in a news release.

Despite the restrictions of the “Basic Economy” fare choice, boarding processes may end up moving at a faster pace if fewer customers search for overhead bin space.

United also announced that it will defer dozens of aircraft deliveries to aircraft maker Boeing Co. (BA - Free Report) , another move to aid in profit boosting.

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