Food service doesn’t have to be a punishment in coach

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Imagine you are sitting in the middle seat in economy class. The middle seat of the middle section, something like 53E on a widebody. It’s cramped, you’re wedged in tight, and you’ve lost all battles for an armrest. Peeling back the lid of what’s supposed to be dinner can feel like adding insult to injury. Nowadays, “how about that airplane food, huh?” is a setup so well-worn it’s groan-worthy, and no commentary on the state of aviation is complete without a good hashing out of the onboard hash.

Sure, in first and business class, the food is usually – though not always – swell. For example, Lufthansa’s menus have traditionally featured partnerships with well-established chefs, and have taken advantage of regional specialties. The carrier’s Taste of America menu, which will showcase dishes from different regions of the US, is yet another step in this direction that elevates dining in the air. But that’s first and business on a top tier carrier, and we’re sitting in 53E.

But the food service doesn’t have to be a punishment in coach. Case in delicious point: Netherlands-based minibite’s Butter Syrup Waffle XL. Anyone doing a little city hopping with Lufthansa has had an opportunity to break open one of these sugary treats. At first blush – indeed, at first bite – one might see them as another step on the long, strenuous the path of cost-cutting. But when placed on top of a cup of tea and allowed to sit for a minute or so, the syrup melts, the waffle softens, and suddenly you realize that everything’s not so bad after all.

Still, it could be better. So say the minds at UK-based BD Foods, which focuses on sauces and dressings cooked in small batches by chefs, not machines. The company tailors its products to the menus of its clients, which include British Airways, KLM, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas. An examination of airplane food can sometimes be bleak, but BD Foods’ devil-in-the-details attitude is a pocket of sunshine.

This drive to overhaul inflight food service isn’t just confined to the food itself. MI Airline and Foodcase teamed up to create a more restaurant-like experience in the air. MI Airline is the proprietor of AirFi, the portable onboard wireless solution with an installation process that involves carrying the box on board. That’s it.

The two Dutch firms have come together to create a system where passengers will be able to place orders with the crew over their own personal devices if they connect to the AirFi network. There they can also find out more information about the meals and their original.

Foodcase’s expertise lies – according to Chief Commercial Officer Stephan Bonger – in “[combining] food technology and packaging technology…” which means the company is ideally suited to deliver what MI Airline promises. It specializes in overcoming creating “ambient” food with good flavor and without preservatives, so when the system goes live, the excitement for the software will be matched with excitement for the food.

For the shyest passengers, this independence will likely be a godsend. For the connected crew, MI Airline and Foodcase anticipate that it will change the pace of inflight service and improve the crew’s ability to respond to passenger needs, but this has yet to be put to the test. Foodcase’s CEO, Wilbert de Louw, predicts that food costs and waste will go down. These reduced costs, paired with the associated savings in fuel costs, are sure to please the airlines.

Further down the line, they imagine the system communicating with intelligent ovens that will be able to prepare to heat meals.

Looking at the video from Foodcase and MI Airline, one wonders what will happen if a bevy of orders come in all at once or if passengers will have a hard time using the system.

The attitude behind this innovation is what’s necessary. A new luxury amenity in first or business is great, but more travelers will have a chance to appreciate good food in 53E, and with so many efforts being made to pack passengers in tighter, a decent food service could save the passenger’s experience.

 

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