Werner Kimmeringer, is managing partner and head of culinary practice at Yates +. Here he shares his thinking on the’next normal’ for inflight catering…
The world is still struggling with the harsh realities of the pandemic. Entire countries and cities have been locked down, the aviation sector has been brought to a standstill and social distancing has become mandatory. The issue facing airlines is how to minimize close face-to-face contact which lies at the heart of social distancing. Achieving this in the economy cabin is challenging.
On the positive side, we are blessed with good air filtration’ 12 to 15 cabin air changes per hour and air filtered through a HEPA filtration system. But on the negative side, the risk of transmission via objects, such as dishes, doorknobs, pillows and blankets or surfaces, such as armrests and air nozzles, remains problematic.
This is known as fomite transmission and many eminent epidemiologists are warning about the potential risks in the airline setting. One suggesting travellers:’Bring your own snacks rather than risk fomite transmission from the crew; do anything that reduces interaction between you and the crew and you and the guest next to you in economy is a plus; wipe the air nozzle with a sanitizing towelette before adjusting.” IATA has recommended no F&B service on high risk routes, minimal service on medium risk routes and normal service on low risk routes. ICAO, on the other hand, has recommended that airlines not provide any F&B service.
So what should airlines do? Nearly all airlines are planning to offer some limited F&B. Like the variance between the IATA and ICAO advice, there are major differences between the planned offerings of various airlines. Some intend to provide almost nothing on short sectors and a cold box on long’ in all classes. Other airlines are planning to offer a bag or amenity pack with snacks and juice on short sectors and a substantial single-dish hot meal on economy long.
At Yates+ our F&B practice has looked at this challenge from every angle. We have focused on three factors: Reducing interaction between crew and customers; Minimising face-to-face contact as far as possible; Making masks compulsory for all guests to help reduce the risk of neighbour-to-neighbour transfer.
We conclude that on short sectors, for F&B Economy, sustainable amenity packs offered to guests as they step onboard make sense. They can contain a tetra pack water, tetra pack juice, snacks, sanitising wipes and a spare mask. Likewise for medium and long sector Economy, sustainable amenity packs along with, at the appropriate time, a hot meal service with a choice of two dishes. Guests could choose their dish via app, through which crew can see the guest’s name and choice on a screen on their cart. This will enable an element of sociability as the PPE, mask and visor protected crew can use the guest’s name and repeat the dish selection when passing the small tray to the window seat even. The tray should be an underplate size to minimise potential fomite transfer and present a smaller surface for the guest to have to sanitise. No other items need be on the tray except the sealed cutlery pack in sterile wrap. The hot meal can be substantial, up to 300gm. It should also be sealed and display a food safety and hygiene procedures certification. A beverage should be offered with the main dish’ water, fruit juice, beer or wine. Again, economy customers choose and request this via their app.
It is still incumbent on all airlines to up the ante on environmentally-friendly practices. The Cpet main dishes and other single-use plastic bowls can all be replaced by zero plastic Limestone dishes. These are of similar appearance and the same weight but at a lower cost than plastic. It is time to change for the good of the planet.
There are 20,000 inflight items delivered to a widebody long-haul aircraft for every flight. Items such as food, beverage, soft furnishings, and catering equipment.We need to satisfy our guests and cabin crew that each item has gone through rigorous processes to guarantee it is COVID-19 free. It is our responsibility, and opportunity, now to make changes to outdated practices.
Let’s re-design the onboard inflight service to be more practical, maintain the same high-quality F&B standards but presented in a simpler easier format. And let’s offload a lot of that redundant equipment.