6 Ways Airlines have Slashed Food Costs

Cost cutting has meant Air India’s economy passengers will be served only veg meals. Here’s what others have done


It’s decided then. The Maharaja’s kitchen will serve its economy passengers a vegetarian meal. No more chicken kebabs or biryani on domestic flights, Air India’s coup on its non-vegetarian passengers is apparently going to save the debt-ridden airline Rs 7 to 8 crore annually, from their current pile of debt amounting to nearly Rs 52,000 crore.

In the airline sector, this is old news. In the past, airline parsimony has led to Economy class being reshaped—read: lighter seats, thinner cushions, crammed legroom, though first and business class continue to enjoy comfort. Closer home, GoAir announced it would only employ female flight attendants as they are ‘lighter’ than men, and then of course, passengers flying in low cost carriers get charged heavily for excess baggage because lighter the aircraft, the better the fuel efficiency and reduction in carbon footprint. A regular victim of this frugality is the food and catering service. In fact, AI’s new policy comes on the heels of news from a-year-and-a-half ago when its domestic flights under 90 minutes began following this rule. Now, all domestic flights will follow this rule. Here’s a look at other ways airlines have cut costs with a stab of the fork.

  1. Skim olives from salad: In the 1980s, American Airlines decided to weed out the olives from its dinner salads when cabin crew observed that three-quarters of passengers would waste the olives, but chow down the rest of the greens. It turned out that the caterer charged the airline basis on the number of ingredients in the salad: 60 cents for four items and 80 cents for five. When olive, the fifth item, was removed from the salad, the airline saved more than $40,000 a year.

  2. Fewer meals: Last year, British Airways cut its food service and now serve only one meal to economy travelers on flights under eight and a half hours, as opposed to two full meals earlier. The fliers will have to make do with snacks if they get hungry later in the flight. Luckily, the choices of alcohol and complimentary snacks was not affected. These cost-cutting measures also apply to journeys of less than seven hours for premium economy passengers.

  3. Unbranded garbage bins: In 1994, Southwest Airlines were paying $300,000 a year in printing the company’s logos on their rubbish bags used to collect food waste. The airline eventually realised that it didn’t matter if the bags were printed or not, and most other airlines used generic, mostly all-black garbage bags anyway.

  4. Lighter cutlery and packaging: Airlines from all the world are cutting back on everything from in-flight meal packaging to cutlery to lighten the load on their planes. Virgin Atlantic paved the way by focusing on reducing food packaging to lighten its planes. So off went the cling-film from bread rolls. Now, they’re working on an entirely package-free meal. All Nippon Airways from Japan introduced lighter porcelain for its First and Business class passengers while Japan Airlines slimmed down the handles of their forks and spoons shaving 2g each. Today, most airlines serve food in lighter cardboards and plastic trays, have switched from glass quarter-sized wine bottles to plastic, have lighter cutlery, replaced plastic drink stirrers with paper, and have cut back on the condiment sachets they carry on board. And found that carrying less alcohol on daytime flights reduces 220kg.

  5. Compact food trolleys: Going a step ahead, United Airlines introduced lighter food trolleys, while British Airways replaced catering trolleys with lightweight versions—on a typical long-haul flight, catering equipment and food weigh six tons. They also reduced the amount of potable water in the onboard tanks. Removing kitchen equipment that is not absolutely essential is the end goal. European airline Ryanair too cut the amount of ice it was carrying onboard to reduce total weight.

    And this takes the cake…

  6. Thinner slices of limes: Northwest Airlines saved a whopping $500,000 a year by slicing limes sixteen ways rather than 10 slices! But the airline also realised that it had been loading more limes on its flights than it needed.

Illustration by: Vartika Pahuja


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