For everyone who has flown on an airplane, they remember the food that was served during the flight for the right or wrong reasons. The airline food has always been associated with high quality, superior hygiene and prepared by following strict food safety guidelines.
At the same time, the food is just the right quantity and a mix of all essential nutrients one needs from a meal.
The flight kitchen industry is an essential part of flight operations and critical for customer service experience for any airline.
I had once flown an international route in the week of 15th August (Indian Independence Day) and we were served a food option called Veg Tiranga – an innovative approach to celebrate our Independence Day. There are many instances when the flight kitchens came up with innovative approaches to celebrate a festival by customizing the menu options.
In the current pandemic scenario, airline and travel industry is greatly impacted as there are restrictions on local and international travel. It has grounded many flights and airlines resulting in a negative impact on flight kitchen operations. To understand the gravity of losses, let us look at the numbers.
A flight kitchen in Mumbai would serve around 20,000 airline meals a day before pandemic but that number has got down to just 1500-2000 meals a day right now. Additionally, the food menu is also restricted due to the govt norms. Sandwiches, breads and similar cold meals are served. The full-fledged hot meals service is yet to restart. There is also a restriction on the way food is served. Now, the new normal will require that food be served in a bento box like arrangement with less interaction between the flight attendants and the fliers.
Was the industry ready for such operations disruption – NO!
If we were told last year that next year, we will face such a situation the way we have seen since March 2020, we would have thought that it was right out of a sci-fi movie.
There was news that some of the flight kitchens are discussing about closing their operations due to low business numbers. As this industry relies on the airline sector, the way airlines are impacted due to the pandemic, it will be a considerable amount of time which is required to get things back on track for the airline sector. Hence, the flight kitchens industry would need more time to reach pre-Covid business levels. It’s a challenge.
So, how do we overcome this challenge?
Covid is throwing at us different business and social challenges which we never imagined we would face. These are definitely historical times where the future generations would remember this as an important part in the history of the mankind.
If the flight kitchens industry wants to get back into business, it will need to navigate away from the dependency on flight operations because last 6 months have taught a hard lesson about the negative impact of that strategy.
As mentioned at the start of this article, customers love airline food. Now, even though the airlines are grounded, the customers are working. They are the potential buyers for airline meals. So, the industry strategists need to think differently.
There needs to be a service called D2C – Direct to Customer, where hot meals are delivered to customers with a pre-order service model. The procurement supply chain needs to be reversed to make the distribution chain stronger. There could be tie-ups with apps which are known for their swift deliveries.
With unlock in progress, the workforce is returning to the offices, as public transport availability is limited and restaurants not allowed to offer dine-in services, there is a demand for hygienic and safe food which flight kitchens can definitely supply as it is their forte.
There will be many takers for this service as customers don’t mind spending for their food safety if they get a guarantee about the hygiene of the food they are getting. There could be various themed meals to bring a variety to the offering.
Pre-order process will make sure that there is a visibility of business coming in. It will help the kitchens to procure just the right amount of supplies so there is no wastage and at the same time, strengthening the economies of vendors who depend on these kitchens.
So holistically, this new business idea benefits all the stakeholders involved, pushing the economy forward and creates a new business segment for competition which ultimately benefits the customer.
This concept of D2C will be the next big thing if done correctly and there won’t be a need to close any flight kitchens. Just the approach needs to be changed and the kitchens can keep going like earlier pre Covid scenario. Only thing is – now they will serve the customers on ground and not in the air!
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.