IN­FLIGHT FOOD

ARAM GE­SAR TELLS US HOW AIR­LINES RE­THINK MAIN CABIN / BUSI­NESS CLASS MEALS

Frequent Flyer Destinations - - VOYAGER -

Bad air­line food has long been a cliché. As air­ports in­creas­ingly roll out high­erend eater­ies, air­lines, too, are up­ping their game, at least for pre­mium pas­sen­gers.

Could free meals be ready for a come­back in econ­omy class and in pre­mium econ­omy on North Amer­i­can flights, or will it con­tinue to be buy-asyou-fly? One of the USA’s big­gest car­ri­ers is con­sid­er­ing it for at least some cross­coun­try flights.

U.S. car­ri­ers are re­vamp­ing their do­mes­tic flight menus, en­list­ing renowned chefs, and har­vest­ing fresher in­gre­di­ents to present fliers with bet­ter op­tions for a healthy meal.

Delta dou­bled the num­ber of first class menu items it of­fers on short-haul do­mes­tic flights. Alaska Air­lines’ econ­omy pas­sen­gers can buy a Viet­namese banh mi sand­wich as well as other bites that re­flect the mult-eth­nic flavor of its home home of Seattle.

Amer­i­can is in­cor­po­rat­ing seasonal veg­gies to cater to health con­scious cus­tomers trav­el­ing on transcon­ti­nen­tal flights.

In econ­omy class, Delta Air Lines has started com­pli­men­tary meal ser­vice on its transcon­ti­nen­tal ser­vice be­tween its hub at New York JFK and the Cal­i­for­nia cities of Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco. It be­gan Nov. 1 2016 as part of a trial and could be­come per­ma­nent if it’s well-re­ceived by fliers.

Morn­ing pas­sen­gers can choose be­tween a honey maple break­fast sand­wich or a “break­fast med­ley.” Lunch op­tions in­clude a mesquite-smoked turkey combo with chips or a whole-grain veg­gie wrap.

When asked if Delta is would con­sider bring­ing back com­pli­men­tary meals on mul­ti­ple cross-coun­try flights or just on its “Transcon ser­vice” routes be­tween New York and Cal­i­for­nia, Delta spokes­woman said “Right now, we are fo­cus­ing on those (Transcon) mar­kets for the test­ing, but we will plan to use the results and feed­back from cus­tomers to de­ter­mine next steps.”

Some air­lines are go­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, drop­ping com­pli­men­tary meals in an ef­fort to meet the grow­ing de­mand for low-cost air­fare.

Oth­ers are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the in­creased liq­uid­ity pro­vided by the cur­rent in­crease in travel de­mand and drop in fuel

cost to rein­vest in the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence. In ei­ther case, ef­forts are in­tended to cater to pas­sen­ger pref­er­ence.

Cana­dian LCC WestJet has re­cently an­nounced that hot meals will not be com­pli­men­tary on its nine-hour transat­lantic route from Van­cou­ver to Lon­don in a bid to bring the LCC ethos to the long-haul mar­ket.

Those op­posed to cut­ting com­pul­sory com­pli­men­tary food of­ten cite health con­cerns as rea­son why the LLC model can­not be sim­ply trans­ferred to the long­haul mar­ket where the du­ra­tion of flights of­ten en­com­passes one or two meal­times. How­ever, WestJet isn’t im­pos­ing a flightwide fast: pas­sen­gers who do not plan ahead by pur­chas­ing a meal in an air­port restau­rant or lounge have the op­tion of pur­chas­ing an à la carte op­tion on board.

WHAT DO PAS­SEN­GERS WANT?

Vary­ing re­sponses to this ques­tion have guided air­lines in the pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of cer­tain ser­vices and ameni­ties over oth­ers. As some car­ri­ers strive to hit rock bot­tom prices, oth­ers are bank­ing on the low fuel prices of the mo­ment to im­prove their culi­nary of­fer­ings.

The ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of low-cost car­ri­ers is an in­di­ca­tion that pas­sen­gers are happy to wel­come more af­ford­able air travel. Many LCCs in Europe, in­clud­ing Wizz Air, Monarch, Ryanair and more rely on the pas­sen­gers who would pre­fer a trim off price above all else – in­clud­ing an in-flight meal that hasn’t been ex­plic­itly re­quested.

If LCCs are cut­ting cater­ing ser­vices to main­tain low prices, le­gacy car­ri­ers are do­ing so to tap into this bur­geon­ing mar­ket. A Bri­tish Air­ways spokesper­son re­cently an­nounced the car­rier is re­view­ing its in­flight cater­ing “to en­sure we’re de­liv­er­ing what [pas­sen­gers] want. Ev­ery­thing we do is with our cus­tomers in mind, and we will make changes that re­flect their feed­back.” Do­ing so would chal­lenge BA’s stand­ing as a “plusher” air­line, but would al­low the le­gacy car­rier to com­pete with lo­cal bud­get car­ri­ers, such as EasyJet and Ryanair.

MORE FREE FOOD IN ECON­OMY COM­ING ?

In ad­di­tion to the air­lines that are main­tain­ing their com­pli­men­tary meals, there are some that have re­cently an­nounced in­creases to their of­fer­ings. United Air­lines, for ex­am­ple, has an­nounced that pas­sen­gers on flights be­tween the US and Europe can ex­pect a mid-flight snack in ad­di­tion to the pre­ar­rival snack and hot meal that pas­sen­gers al­ready re­ceive. Mean­while, Amer­i­can Air­lines has re­stored com­pli­men­tary snacks, af­ter can­cel­ing them in 2003.

Ac­cord­ing to USA To­day, new found fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity in the Amer­i­can avi­a­tion sec­tor means that the “big three” – United, Amer­i­can and Delta – are in a po­si­tion to rein­vest in the pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence. The 2001 ter­ror­ist at­tacks and the sub­se­quent eco­nomic re­ces­sion re­sulted in bil­lions of dol­lars in loss over the last decade, but the cur­rent in­crease in travel de­mand, drop in fuel cost and a se­ries of ma­jor air­line merg­ers have strength­ened the US avi­a­tion sec­tor, thereby end­ing a pe­riod of near aus­ter­ity.

Air­lines may cite pas­sen­gers’ pref­er­ences in de­fense of their stance on free in­flight food, but the truth is the ma­jor­ity of pas­sen­gers ap­pear in­dif­fer­ent to the mat­ter. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by In­marsat and GfK, fifty-four per­cent of pas­sen­gers say broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity is more im­por­tant than in-flight meals, which is only a pri­or­ity for 19 per­cent of re­spon­dents.

Re­cent an­nounce­ments from Bri­tish Air­ways and Amer­i­can Air­lines re­gard­ing in-flight Wi-Fi sug­gest that pas­sen­gers are in­deed be­ing heard. If the find­ings are cor­rect, in-flight cater­ing may prove to have lit­tle bear­ing on cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion – or, at the very least, less than cheap air­fare and fast Wi-Fi would.

Times have changed, many air­lines are not cer­tain how­ever that if you build a bet­ter menu, cus­tomers will nec­es­sar­ily come. They don’t ink the con­sumer is go­ing to start flock­ing back to an air­line be­cause of the qual­ity of the food. The fact that they now have it, a lot of peo­ple are thinking ‘it’s about (darn) time.

United launched menu items such as duck con­fit ravi­oli along with its new pre­mium ser­vice be­tween Ne­wark and San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les.

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