June 24, 2024

The new normal for eating habits

David Griffiths, head of insight at Fethr and vp content at Black Swan, studies online conversations and offers some valuable insights on the future of inflight food and beverage based on a 900m+ passenger-conversation dataset…/strong>

For many of us, the return to normality is likely feeling glacially slow, if not for the torture of the endless quarantine adverts or the ever-present uncertainty this pandemic is sowing, then just for the crushing monotony of being at home for 9 weeks. Our data suggests passengers are feeling the same. There’€™s a fervent desire to get back in the air, we even saw a 51% growth in those who identify as immune compromised sharing this inclination. Food & beverage is a battleground that shares many of the same drivers as safety and sanitation, and will likely be one of the parts of the air travel experience that changes the most as we take to the skies again.

Food safety concerns have been an important conversation amongst passengers for several years, with some airlines doing exceptionally, others not so well, and many barely registering from forgettable services and experiences. Not today. As with all things, this horrible pandemic has shone a spotlight on this area. In the past few weeks we’€™ve seen a 210% growth in volume around general concerns, and a 203% growth in people discussing the safety measures that should be put in place. I’€™ll cut a long story short, overwhelmingly passengers see a need for change, illustrated by a number of datapoints, not least the 229% growth in conversations where people reference previous transgressions or bad experiences they’€™ve had with their airlines or airports.

Many of these concerns are driven by the idea of the trolley service and the fact that the cabin crew could inadvertently pass the virus through the plane as they give out drinks and food. Passengers understand that transmission would be difficult for airlines to control once the inflight service starts in its current state (e.g.: a virus could easily spread from passenger to the cabin crew’€™s gloves, and then onto all trays and drinks etc.). This anxiety has driven a 227% increase in passenger focus on the airlines, airport and crew handling of food and the procedures they have in place. Expect to see eagle-eyed passengers performing spot inspections on the trolley as it rolls through the aisles, and far less people willing to take something from it as we’€™ve registered an 87% decline in willingness to use inflight services in their current form.

This is going to change inflight and pre-flight rituals in the airport significantly. Some aspects will change drastically in the first few months and then return to more normalcy, while others will be permanent. We’€™ve seen an 80% growth in passenger conversations talking about picking up their food before they board to limit the chance of a contact infection inflight’“ even knowing that they’€™ll likely be able to pick up a packaged meal on some carriers. Restaurants in terminals that can’€™t open for dining could still make a good trade providing take away meals for passengers to eat in the terminal or take on the plane. Airlines that have the ability should push their pre-ordering options. Many passengers don’€™t even know these exist.
It won’€™t only be the delivery method that changes in the short term.

Everything from the ingredient provenance to cooking processes will come into focus. Attention to the finer details of these things is going to need to extend beyond just the wants of First Class, Business, Premium and more engaged economy passengers that fly frequently with you. Passenger loyalty is up for grabs, maybe more than ever, and food & beverage is a good touchpoint to rebuild confidence from – or an easy one to lose if we get it wrong.