Airline catering: What is this about?

As the 2016 Global Passenger Survey by International Air Transport Association (IATA) [1] indicates, consuming of either Food or Drinks is among TOP 3 in-flight activities when it comes to long haul flight. If you were eating some food or ordered snacks in the skies, did you ever thought of what lies behind the meal you have got in front of you during the flight, and what do we, as passengers, require?


To begin with, In-Flight Catering Servies’ size is estimated to be around $13 billion USD [2] with nearly 2 billion passengers served onboard each year [3], and tens of thousands every day [4], meaning that one must provide quality meals eaten hours later while addressing the varieties, dietary needs and food preparation requirements of all kinds.

The in-flight catering service supply chain is however extremely complex, even said to be one of the most complex operational systems in the world. The catering companies are in a difficult position, as they have the responsibility for accounting and keeping the food and equipment, but at the same time, they may only provide services to the extent they have been hired to.


Food’s quality, product design and safety measures in accordance with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point principles (HACCP), all of this to be kept in mind when providing the catering services. The procedures like Food safety management system is in place to ensure the safety of meals on board and addresses the basic operational and sanitation conditions within the premises.


HACCP General Flow Version [World Food Safety Guidelines for Airline Catering]
 The President of KLM said, that “Flight catering is 70% logistics and 30% cooking.” And considering the chain, it may be very true. Usually, the kitchen takes no more than 10% capacity of total floor area [2], with the rest being used for stores, trays, or trolleys. The companies are mostly focused on the efficiency and costs of provided services. But what about passengers?


Most surveys show the passengers are not entirely concerned about Food and Beverage (F&B), but instead, about the on-time performance or scheduling issues. What is interesting though is, that the in-flight food tastes differently than it would normally do, which is probably mostly caused because of the several processes food has to get through before being served. [5] While F&B may not be the pre-purchase decision, it is still very important part of overall passenger’s experience, especially during long-haul flights.

That does not apply to the low fare airlines (LFAs). When choosing Airline such a RyanAir or EasyJet, one does not expect to have a meal on board as it is simply not a part of their services. On average, these airlines can save around 6% of all their costs solely on catering services [6].

So, expectations of services may vary a lot, depending on what kind of Airline we choose to fly with, and what class will we choose.

If we place ourselves into the ordinary, non-low-cost airline, Economic class in a long-haul flight, we will for sure be glad if we get at least fresh, warm and maybe even tasty food and drinks. Because of our expectations and service quality improvements, we can see that the trends are shifting already within the industry.

Some airlines are switching to “Á la Carte” menu from complimentary meals and the nutritious food is more popular as well [6]. And that is only the beginning. Airlines are more and more open to the use of mobile devices by their crew, with growing expansion of Wi-Fi onboard. In 2013, Airlines began to equip their crews with mobile devices to increase passenger’s comfort [7]. Nowadays, it is even possible to let passengers pre-order their food before a flight via mobile apps being available to even Economic class (Qantas Airways or Singapore Airlines) [8].

We are heading towards the era of modern technology, and those implementations only imply what is about to come. Overall the industry is to further grow to reach more than $19.5 billion by 2022 [6]. The airlines will slowly transform from simple transportation to hospitality services, with F&B being within the core of their services.








List of sources:

2 thoughts on “Airline catering: What is this about?

  1. berni98 says:

    I like what you have written, it’s very interesting to read. In my opinion the only thing I miss from this post is to use some models or systems that we learnt during lessons.


  2. listen313 says:

    Over all it is great blog post, but by reading about catering in airline industries, I would get a fuller picture if the blog to appear the details of the mega kitchens that prepare one hundreds thousand meals a day and is often located within the airport area and serve several airlines at the same time.


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