March 29, 2023

Insights go virtual

As part of an eight-part Passenger Experience Conference Virtual Series, WTCE invited Julie Baxter, Onboard Hospitality editor, and Jo Austin, Taste of Travel Theatre moderator, to host two insightful webinars…

The Future of Inflight Catering

Panellists: Sarah Klatt-Walsh, Independent Inflight Consultant, The Hayward Partnership; Stefan Patermann, Chief Executive Officer of Retail inMotion; Genevieve Reis Rosario, Senior Manager in Product Development & Service Design at Qatar Airways, and Marc Warde, Director of Libero meals.

The first webinar looked at The Future of Inflight Catering as the industry navigated its way through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. A panel of industry experts was made up of Sarah Klatt-Walsh, Independent Consultant; Genevieve Reis Rosario, at Qatar Airways; Stefan Patermann, of Retail inMotion and Marc Warde, of Libero Meals.

Hygiene imperatives, new boxed concepts, sustainability, technology and the need for greater industry collaboration were all hot topics in the debate. Sarah Klatt-Walsh opened the discussion recognising that sustainability was currently being trumped by hygiene issues as airlines prioritise the delivery of safe, effective and pleasing catering options in the ‘new normal’ environment.

But, she reflected sustainability would return to the airline agenda in due course and more sustainable products would be in demand from closed-loop solutions, alternatives to single-use plastics and new sustainable materials in the cabin. The panel agreed.

The industry experts also discussed the increasing role of digitalisation in the passenger experience, and how the ability to pre-order, pre-select, use digital menus and touchless payment options are increasingly relevant to today’s onboard experience. Klatt-Walsh reported that the technology trend was being accelerated by COVID-19, while Stefan Patermann explained how digitalisation is playing an important role in the evolution of the customer experience and suggested that the initial investment in technology would ultimately save costs in the long term, cut waste andopen up new revenue streams. The tech will increasingly create a seamless and connected passenger experience.

Marc Warde insisted the obsession with health and wellbeing triggered by the pandemic would push healthy eating trends further into the mainstream and make quality, well-sourced ingredients ever more important to passengers. 

Rebuilding Onboard Confidence

Panel: Linda Celestino, VP Guest Service & Delivery at Etihad Airways; David Young, Executive Manager, Sustainability & Future Planet at Qantas Airways; Federico Heitz, CEO Kaelis, and Keith Yates, Director of Yates and Partners.

The second webinar focussed on the steps being taken to reassure customers it’s safe to fly. The panel included Linda Celestino, from Etihad Airways; David Young, from Qantas Airways; Federico Heitz, of Kaelis; and Keith Yates, of Yates
and Partners.

Celestino accepted that the past six months had been incredibly challenging for the airline but said that it had also recognised it as an opportunity to completely review its cabin materials, goods and logistical procedures, and to further improve hygiene and operational standards.

She provided insights into the measures introduced to reassure passengers at every step of the journey, underpinned by the airline’s new health and hygiene programme: Etihad Wellness. She said that the stringent measures put in place to deal with COVID-19 had become a major component of the airline’s long-term customer strategy, ensuring that its guests can fly with greater confidence.

Celestino stressed the importance of communication and the need to share information on culinary hygiene (gathered at its catering facilities and food testing labs), on aircraft cabin deep-cleaning processes, check-in, health screening, boarding and across the inflight experience.

Etihad also has risk-assessment tool available for passengers to use ahead of flying, while its ‘Fit to Fly’ self-service check-in and health screening service is available at Abu Dhabi Intl Airport.

Continuing the discussion, Keith Yates of Yates and Partners, offered insights on consumer expectations, their key anxiety points, and how the passenger journey is changing more today than it ever has before. Interestingly, airport transit, the jet bridge, and boarding were highlighted as the key anxiety touchpoints for passengers.

Yates then talked about some of the innovative solutions already in development to help combat passenger concerns, from simple updates, such as improving door handles on aircraft to the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) across the passenger journey.

Federico Heitz, of Kaelis, noted the innovation coming forward from suppliers pivoting to support new health and hygiene focus products and using new materials. 

The panel acknowledged that there was an opportunity for a ‘complete reinvention’ of the passenger journey, from arrival at the airport to boarding the plane. In addition, AI-driven communication on customer tech devices was said to be key in supporting confidence in the passenger journey, aiding real-time updates and advice on everything from queues and gates to health risks and security.