July 18, 2024

Trolleys, the unsung heroes of inflight service

Trolleys and security seals are the workhorse heroes of inflight catering. Stuart Forster looks beyond the aisle service for latest trends and developments

Despite the recent disruption to inflight F&B services, many flight trolleys did in fact continue to fly during the pandemic. They are such an integral part of the aircraft set up that they continued to be boarded onto those aircraft still flying, to help distribute weight for safer operations. Usually they were loaded with only bottled water, but this unsung role in the downturn perhaps reflects their stalwart position within the inflight service sector.

Atlas trolleys have long been accepted as the industry’s dominant standard although a handful of operators continue to use KSSU carts. Over time, heavy-duty aluminium trolleys have been replaced by lighter versions, often branded, and increasingly designed using composite materials to reduce onboard weight and support increased fuel efficiency. This push to innovate continues.

Worldwide manufacturer, Egret Aviation, for example, expanded and established a U.S. business last year, supplying products including lightweight trolleys from its warehouse in Dallas, Texas. Featuring larger handles and rounder edges than previous models, the company’s M1 Series is already certified for use in Europe and China. Federal Aviation Administration approval for U.S. use is due in the first quarter of 2023.

At Korita Aviation lighter weights have been top of mind too. Samantha Collas, Business Excellence Manager, says: “Our new Aluflite Superlight series of inflight catering equipment supports airlines in reducing fuel burn and carbon dioxide emissions. Through careful engineering and design, we have been able to achieve new levels of weight reduction without sacrificing necessary strength.”  

Avio Pack’s redesigned drawer inserts

Avio Pack has similarly re-engineered the mould and changed some of the features of its Atlas drawer to cut weight without compromising the strength or rigidity. At 540g per drawer it is now 20% lighter than some others. The team has also worked on drawer inserts including a mould for a 15 cavity insert for efficient drinks service or meal components storage. 

The Aluflite superlight product range was unveiled at the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo in Hamburg this year and includes full- and half-size Atlas standard meal trolleys weighing 16.1kg and 10.1kg respectively, including dry ice trays. It also features an Atlas standard container weighing 2.3kg. Complementing this series are Atlas standard single- and dual-runner polypropylene drawers, weighing 540g and 583g.

Health and hygiene issues have come to the fore during the pandemic and the role of cooling inserts remains key. Finnish company, Icebridge, partners with equipment manufacturing giant, Safran Cabin on products designed for fresh, frozen and pre-heated food items.

Icebridge Trolley Coolers use dry ice and keep their contents chilled to between 1°C and 7°C for up to 23 hours. The Wet Ice Boxes are made of lightweight materials and keep ice frozen up to 20 hours with around only 10% loss due to melting, without spillage. 

The newest product in Icebridge’s portfolio is the HD Series Wet Ice Box. Weighing 560g, it carries 5kg of ice cubes. It is used widely, especially in North and Latin America, and can be used for ice cream too. The boxes are recyclable or can be taken for incineration in energy-producing plants.

Return catering

Bucher’s thermally-insulated ARCTICart is designed to enable return and multi-segment catering without dry ice or power. Providing an option for chiller-free galleys, ARCTICart is designed to keep the temperature of food and drink low and stable for at least 20 hours. Compatible with half- and full-size Atlas trolleys, it facilitates a reduction in aircraft weight while maximising the trolleys’ internal space by negating the need for additional cooling inserts.

Robust reliability

Tower Cold Chain’s onboard cold storage solution includes two insulated boxes, the AIB4 and larger AIB7, designed to fit into Atlas standard galley boxes and trolleys. Suzanne Hagley, Business Development Manager Airlines/Cargo at Tower Cold Chain, says: “The AIB4 and AIB7 allow airlines to return cater food, enabling cost savings and a consistent product on both the out- and inbound service. Our boxes are ideal for night stopping flights, keeping fresh food within temperature until the next morning.

“They give airlines flexibility as they can be loaded with a basket or oven rack. A frozen plate containing phase-change material gives 24-hours’ compliance at holding the refrigerated temperature of between 2°C and 8°C,” adds Hagley, pointing out that the solution does not require the procurement of dry ice. 

“It’s robust, reliable and completely reusable. At the end of its life cycle, every component can be broken down and recycled,” adds Hagley, highlighting the products’ sustainability.

The aluminium boxes’ opening mechanisms are similar to those of the Atlas trolleys and boxes familiar to cabin crew. They can be washed by standard airline catering tunnel washing machines and do not need to be pre-chilled or plugged into an energy supply.

Tower has developed lighter versions of its boxes. Available since the end of August this year, the new AIB4 weighs 4.6kg, 200g lighter than the original. At 6.8kg, the new AIB7 weighs 350g less.

SkyTender Solutions is looking to revolutionise the beverage service with its trolleys. The company’s SkyBar Splash is a post-mix drinks system that eliminates waste from bottles, cans and Tetra Paks. The SkyBarista One dispenses coffee specialities while the SkyBar Aqua+, whose prototype was introduced at the 2022 Aircraft Interiors Expo, serves still and sparkling water plus bottle refills. Smart technology linked to the trolley provides airlines and caterers with route-based insights into consumption.

“The philosophy of all our beverage systems is to be more sustainable, to be more ecological with all resources, fine-tune the supply chain and allow the airlines to differentiate themselves using the brands they want,” says Isha Maker, SkyTender’s Head of Sales and Marketing.

Thomas Mützel-von Schwartz, SkyTender’s Managing Director Technical Operations explains that the company’s products can be adapted to fit an airline’s trolley preference. “The trolley is a highly accepted standard throughout the industry and that builds a bridge for us to bring our innovation into the aircraft and enhance the passenger experience,” he explains.

Waste management is a field experiencing space- and weight-saving developments too. Along with increasing passenger demands for companies to act sustainably, new airport fees relating to waste management and the introduction of stricter regulations are driving efforts to reduce cabin waste.

Onboard Logistics

Tackling waste

Identifying an opportunity for airlines to save weight, Nicky Beades, Managing Director of Onboard Logistics, developed the Flex-e-Bag; a bag with an inbuilt frame that allowed it to be inserted into trolleys. “If the airlines didn’t have waste trolleys, they could put a Flex-e-Bag into it and use it as a waste trolley,” he says. 

“Our business is creating galley space,” adds Beades, something especially important on single-aisle aircraft. 

His company’s stackable Flex-e-Drawer system allows empty drawers to sit at the bottom of Atlas trolley or next to flatbed trays in flight kitchens. 

“Sustainability is what it’s all about at the moment,” Beades says. And his newest product, the Flex-e-Frame, allows a polythene or biodegradable plastic bag to be clipped onto the reusable frame by reducing plastic usage.

Made of paper and cardboard, Gxflight’s Kraft Paper Trash Compactor Box folds flat for storage ahead of insertion into a trolley. Water-resistant, it can store up to 35lbs (15kg) of compacted waste and residual liquid. 

Sort it

Reducing waste and simplifying recycling were key to the Airbus and Iacobucci HF Aerospace collaboration to develop ReTrolley. Available in half- and full-sizes, ReTrolley is a cabin waste management solution that facilitates the pre-sorting and reduction of waste during flights. Compartmentalised, it features three customisable modules and enables recyclables to be compressed during collection. Cups can be stacked and liquids collected.

In recent years the long-established Italian company has expanded its product portfolio and production capacity, reducing the weight and cost of its standard trolleys. ReTrolley can be installed in any compartment without special system connections or adaptions. 

At WTCE, Engineerethic’s also focused on new waste and recycling trolleys designed to help with the separation of recyclable materials. Other innovations included a space-saving trolley that folds down to just a few inches wide when not in use, and a removable beverage service shelf to make pouring drinks in the aisle easier.

Trolley security is also seeing a change. Tamper-evident security seals both ensure food and drink is not compromised and allay the terror threat post 9/11. Increasingly they link to technology as airlines move away from paper records towards automatic scanning and management inventories. 

Randy Barnard, President of SCIS Air Security, says:“Because no tools are allowed onboard, a seal has to be easily broken by the flight attendants.” He has noticed airlines moving from zip tie-style seals to flatter lock-style seals with hasps.


Nicky Slater, Business Development Manager of ITW Envopak, says the current generation of tamper-evident seals include features such as high-security laser printing. Despite the sustainability push she says: “You can make bamboo plates or forks, but you just can’t make seals from bamboo as they need to be functional. You have to use a material that breaks under a certain tensile strength. You can however make the plastic pieces smaller.” 

ITW Envopak’s Unoseal is widely used by flag carriers and the company also produces tamper-evident insulated bags for F&B. The company has developed the two-part Tenor/Trio system. A padlock stays attached to all-day bars and back catering trolleys. It can be fitted with different types of outbound, turnaround and inbound seals. Padflex metal seals, used on the final leg, need to be removed by caterers using bolt cutters.

The growth of inflight retail has raised concerns over theft – euphemistically termed shrinkage – as each F&B item is a potential source of revenue. 

Tamper-evident plastic security seals are also produced by TydenBrooks, the maker of CableLok, a new, adjustable length, 1.8mm cable seal. The company’s Hawk Seal, consisting of a reusable Hawk Lock padlock body and disposable seals which lock together, is designed for use on trolleys and Atlas boxes.  

TydenBrooks’ single-use Swan Seal is a two-piece plastic seal also designed for use on inflight trolleys. Being tamper-evident and cost-effective were driving forces in the design of the padlock-style lock with large flags for branding, security or other messaging. 

Let’s see what rolls out in the future.