Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 12:09 pm


We have heard a lot in the last few days on this forum about the incredibly low levels of service on US Domestic routes, particularly with regard to food. Soggy pizza and BBQ Sandwiches, it would seem, are unacceptable items for a flight of 2-3 hours duration.
My motto has always been keep it simple but others demand a little more bang for their buck.

So let's have some suggestions on how US airlines can improve their food service. Remember the airlines are very cheap so any changes will have to be minor.

Should self-serve bags be eliminated? Do people deserve more than a sandwich + cookie? etc. etc
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 2:36 pm

Yes, the carry on food bags are the most insulting thing I have come across in the aviation industry. American's BISTRO bag contains a sandwich, a banana, a cookie, and a bottle- like, four to six ounces at the most- of Ozarka water. That is insulting. I am paying more for tickets and getting less service than I did just five years ago. I remember my favorite AA meal- Dinner, Cajun chicken. It was absolutely delicious, airline food or not. My dad always ate lasagna. But now, this is a joke. I don't think they have to do much more. Just serve WARM food. It means so much to people. And food that is more interesting than a freakin' sandwich!
I also know that Delta uses the DeliBag thing, but have not flown DL in several years, so I have no first hand experience.

RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 2:55 pm

Assuming the airlines are cheap and want to keep it can they make a snack that does not make the pax feel like K-mart shoppers yet filling/tasty?

I've found that WARM food is not a guarantee either. Delta's Chicken Brick is the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted and I was so surprised to be served something warm at all (of course ice cold on the inside).


RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 3:15 pm


You knew I couldn't help myself didn't you? Given that we are discussing full service carriers and not discount jobs, here is my opinion.

A lean cuisine in Australia is around $3.50 to purchase from a supermarket and is of reasonable quality, reasonably tasting, low in fat (they can't use cheap stuff) and microwavable or re-heatable quite easily.

Add to that an orange juice, a small side salad with dressing, some cheese and nice crackers and maybe a desert cup.

The above, if you take into account the economies of the amount of people flying, would at the most cost around $2.00 AUD a head. Serving the food is not an issue (as our flight attendants here can whip out a full lunch and get everyone drinks and take it all away in 50 minutes)..

You might have to add 50cents max per person for the loading and unloading. The preparation and cost of food served and prepared is included in the $2.00 a head.

It is the bean counters that are sitting in their corporate offices who say we'll cut 500,000 meals and that will save the company $2M USD (or whatever) that has caused a decline in service. They are not thinking of the customer they are thinking of the dollar.

So it's pretty simple. Even if the amount was $5.00 AUD per head, that is not an unreasonable.


RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 3:27 pm


I'm starting to see the wisdom in your reasoning. I mean, just how many tens of BILLIONS of dollars did the US airlines rake in this year!!! Serve something decent for a change ya bastards!

Just got off a 45-minute flight last week... "Due to the short flight, we will not be offering any beverage service..." I ONLY PAID US $289 for that priviledge  

RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 3:33 pm

No 'D' in privilege

RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 4:09 pm


You'll have to excuse my typing I am waiting for my Limo to arrive for my surprise Olympic treat tonight, courtesy of my partner. I've had a couple of Chardys.

$249.00 flight? To where? I paid recently $240 AUD for a changeable AN flight from SYD to BNE (no charges to change the flight either). That flight includes a dinner and is for the first time for me a "coach" fare. What you get in coach / economy for a meal flight in Oz is basically what I described above. AN actually a few months earlier (and this our version of cost cutting) were offering a cake trolley and canape's on non meal time flights.

In reality though, it's awful that you guys are getting such bad service. Look in the Wall street Journal and see how much money the airlines are making?

AN & QF rely on a good business class and full fare economy income. They know that if they stop decent service that customers will go to Virgin or Impulse.

It does not cost the airlines to offer something pleansant for customers. However they are a business and need to get returns to their shareholders and directors. What I think you will see in the future in the US is customers sick to death of delays, bad service, bad food and things will improve.

I can remember in the 70's when I was a kid and you got a gift bag, that included a colouring in book, die-cast badge of wings, a model of the plane and some crayons.


RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 4:10 pm

Why can't they hire or contract with McDonalds or Subway or Papa Johns to provide food?

Airlines aren't in the catering biz, let those that are do the job

As for extra cost, put a $3 meal surcharge on tix, than pax know they can expect good food!
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Anyone Else Remember?

Fri Sep 29, 2000 4:36 pm

When I was just a tot I remember flying SLC to ATL usually on an L-1011 (Detla) and being served a hot fudge sundae after your main course. It was the all nighter so everyone else was asleep. You just sit back and watch the movie with your seatbelt loosened and your chair reclined, a spoon in one hand, and a sundae in the other...Ah memories, sweet memories.

It has been downhill since then. Although as tacky as a sack lunch is, I thought the chicken burrito in the "Bistro" sack was scrumptious.
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 4:59 pm

The following article is from the archives of The Economist. It provides some interesting facts and figures.


johan rebel

DATE 13-Mar-99


Its hard being a supplier these days. Ask the firms that make airline food.

Customers and suppliers.

WHO has the toughest logistical job at JFK ? The New York airport’s traffic controllers handle around 40 flights an hour. In the same time, James Anderson, the general manager of LSG Sky Chefs’ kitchen at the airport, co-ordinates 7,000 pieces of food. Each day, his kitchen--the most modern of the 151 kitchens belonging to the world’s biggest airline caterer--turns a mountain of ingredients, including 400lbs of beef and 100lbs of shrimp, into 7,500 meals for customers such as British Airways, All Nippon Airways and South African Airways.

Despite the aroma of grilled salmon and the presence of 18 white-hatted chefs, the football-field sized facility still feels more like a Silicon Valley “fab” than a kitchen. The 275 employees all wear gloves and hospital-style haircovers. Using “cell” production methods, adopted from General Motors’ Saturn car factories, they take, on average, a minute-and-a-half to “build” a single meal.

The kitchen may be making potato chips, but it is as much a supplier of components as is Intel or Motorola. Nearly all of the world’s airlines used to make their own food--just as computer makers originally designed most of their own computer chips and car makers once thought they should smelt steel. Now many airlines, like the computer and car firms, are trying to be “virtual”, contracting out their food to specialist suppliers.

On the face of it, this has worked a treat. Costs have fallen and food is slightly better. (Though, because altitude dulls the taste buds, even the best airline food usually seems something of an oxymoron to diners.) Sky Chefs, just like other specialist suppliers, keeps on investing in its niche. Its new coolers at JFK can chill part-cooked food from 150°F (66°C) to 39°F in less than 15 minutes, rapidly sealing in juices before the final blast in aircraft ovens.

The caterers have grown into a sizeable industry. Six firms control nearly two-thirds of the US$ 9.5 billion world market. Sky Chefs, which is 23.5% owned by LSG , the services arm of the German airline, Lufthansa, has a fifth of the world market. On March 11th Sky Chefs announced that LSG is increasing its stake to 47%, and may eventually buy the entire firm. Because relatively little of LSG Sky Chef’s sales come from Lufthansa, it depends upon airlines’ willingness to outsource. Sky Chefs has grown at rates that its customers must envy, tripling revenues over the past five years to US$ 1.7 billion in 1998. And it may get bigger again. Sky Chefs’ chief executive, Michael Kay, hopes that most of Asia’s loss-making airlines will eventually outsource their own inefficient catering businesses.

However, Sky Chefs’ thin margins and dangerous dependence on large accounts (four-fifths of the business with the international kitchen at JFK is with British Airways) indicate who calls the shots in their business. With direct costs often hard to cut, the airlines have squeezed their suppliers. According to GKMG Consultants, the average meal on a domestic flight in America now costs just US$ 4.13 per passenger, compared with US$ 5.62 in 1992. Even on Concorde, food accounts for only US$ 45 on a US$ 5,620 transatlantic ticket. In the past two-and-half years, the “crate to plate” time for airline food at JFK has halved to 30 hours.

The squeeze is even beginning to tell on the plate. A Harvard Business School study at the end of 1997 noted that, on short-haul economy flights in America, “Sky Chefs was often forced to provide the food . . . beverages and service for under US$ 3.- a passenger.” South African Airways has swapped its meat and potatoes for fancier pasta dishes that cost less to produce, but for which it pays the same (US$ 10.- for an economy, long-haul flight). Some of the resulting shortcuts--replacing an “expensive” wedge of lemon with a little more cheap rice, for instance--are hard to notice, but they do not augur well.

Who ate the fish

This squeeze will seem familiar to every small supplier, from disk-drive makers to cheque-book printers. Behind all the talk about “partnerships” and “supply-chain management”, there is the simple fact that most suppliers are easy meat (or cheap rice) for their customers whenever the going gets hard. Is there a way for suppliers to strengthen their position?

Consolidation is an answer of sorts. Having seen a deal between Sky Chefs and LSG , the betting is on a merger between Gate Gourmet (a subsidiary of Swissair) and Dobbs (part of America’s Viad group), the number two and three, respectively. The hitch is that, even if the industry shrank to, say, three firms, an airline would still have enough of a choice to bully its suppliers. And in some businesses, including airline catering, there may even be the prospect of being cut out altogether. A few low-cost carriers, such as Britain’s easyJet, have done away with food altogether. On American domestic flights it is now unusual to be served anything more than some stale biscuits, a sandwich or a packet of nuts.

If scale is not the answer, what about diversification into related and, with luck, higher-margin businesses? Sky Chefs is branching out into convenience foods, while Britain’s Alpha Airports runs airport shops. Yet this risks blunting the great advantage of the specialist--that you know your industry inside out.

In the end, the only satisfactory answer is for suppliers to persuade their customers to value them more highly. The airline food industry’s best chance to improve its margins seems to lie in persuading the airlines that food is not a necessary evil whose cost should be minimised, but a way for them to differentiate themselves. Most airlines are now fairly good at delivering passengers safely and punctually to their destination for roughly the same price.

In a new book, Leonard Berry, a professor of marketing at Texas A&M University, claims that investment in food has helped turn Midwest Express Airlines into one of America’s two most consistently profitable airlines. Midwest is the only American carrier listed in the world’s top ten for service and food. It spends around US$ 10.- per head on food, twice as much as most domestic airlines. Though all seats are classed economy, chairs are leather and meals are served on china plates. Wine and champagne is free and cookies are baked on board. Attendants are taught to hold the wine bottles and coffee cups “as though they were serving in a fine restaurant”.

In 1997 Mr Kay offered US$ 1m to any airline prepared to launch a marketing campaign based on better food. United Airlines took him up. With bigger helpings and extras such as dips, muffins and bagels, UAL boosted traffic on the test routes by 2%, equal to US$ 2.4m in annual revenue. More important, 10% more passengers also said they would fly with UAL again. Bob Sobczewski, manager of UAL ’s on-board service, credits the process with “forcing us to develop a financial model to tell us when improved service leads to higher revenues”.

Still, it looks like a bumpy ride for the caterers. The airline industry remains obsessed with cutting costs, and suppliers remain the easiest place to look. Travellers facing meagre portions, limp lettuce and overcooked beef can only hope that this will change.

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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 5:08 pm

Gate Gourmet (Swissair Subsidary) has already bought Dobbs. And they have now overtaken Sky Chefs so Gate Gourmet is the largest caterer now.

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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 5:12 pm

I have a completely different view on airline meals. If i buy a plane ticket, its because I want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. I don't buy the plane ticket to get a 5 star meal. I'm just happy if the airline offers any type of meal service. Wether I am served on china, paper plates, in a box or in a bag, I could care less. For everyone who complains about the meals they get when flying should plan ahead, and bring whatever food will make you happy. Since most of my flying is in the domestic US, I usually have at least one stop before I get to my destination, and if needed, I just eat at the airport.
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 6:41 pm

Hi guys!

For those that just fly in USA please come to Europe and you'll see how is a true air transportation business!!!
In August I flew from FAO to ZRH with Edelweiss, it was my first charter flight in 20 years!!!! I didn't expect much but in the other way I was curious to see. Well my flight was about 2:30 hours and we had a full course lunch, it was not refined cuisine but we had a salad, mail meal ( chicken with rice and erbs ), desert, cofee, beverages ( non alchoolic ones! ) and finally a small swiss cake just before we landed. What do you think? Not bad for a charter!
Now if I fly in a regular airline, let's see.... summer 1998 from FAO to LHR with BA, about the same time flight ( 2:30 hours ), we started with peanuts and aperitifs ( 2 X Gordon's gin tonics! ) then we got the main course with steack, salad, desert - all served with 2 bottles of good french wine, coffee with digestifs ( 2 X Grants! ) and that was it. In USA a did a one month tour flying with UNITED: Albany/Chicago/Denver/Seattle/LAX/Fresno/LAX/JFK and I didn't even close to......Edelweiss!!!
CV990, the Maserati of the skies!
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Fri Sep 29, 2000 9:52 pm

When I saw the words "gloves off." I had to take a look. I know the question specified US domestic, but I have to say the best meal I've had on an airline was a restaurant quality, filet mignon. It was on Alitalia ORD to FCO a few years ago. It was delicious, and that was coach!

Domestically speaking, the flying public shouldn't expect much more than a snack on a flight of less than 2 - 3 hours. Also if there is a rough ride sometimes the crew will hold off on the service for safety reasons, and if it is a short flight they may not get a chance at all.

The airlines have streamlined their product over the years, and depending on how you look at it, meal service has suffered. When anyone gets on a plane what they really want is to get somewhere. I have never been disappointed by the peanuts on Southwest, but it would get old if I had booked a ticket on them, involving a bunch of stops.
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Sat Sep 30, 2000 12:27 am

One of the reasons I mostly avoid flying the main carriers in the US - AA and DL in particular - is that their ticket costs are usually highest and the value-per-dollar is the lowest. I can't justify paying $435 for a return ticket on MKE-SAN on Delta and getting nothing more than a bistro bag on at least one leg of the flight going and coming. However, for $349 on MKE-LAX-SAN return via Midwest Express, I get a full business-class meal, all the wine or champagne I can drink, and a comfortable, wide leather seat. Plus the flight is one long non-stop on MKE-LAX, and a short hop via American Eagle on LAX-SAN, not two 2.5 - 3 hour legs and a layover in some airport. The choice is pretty obvious to me!

I tend to wonder where airlines are cutting their costs if service is minimal and ticket prices are so high. It's true MKE isn't a prime destination, which is probably why AA, DL and CO charge so much for tickets from here. I haven't flown with Delta since 1995, nor AA since 1992 (just American Eagle), and haven't been on CO since 1985. My last flight with UAL was in 1996. Pretty consistently, NWA and YX are my choices from MKE because their fares are so low. This is not to say I have no idea about the service on UA, AA, DL or CO, because I've friends who fly them frequently, and I ask about these things.

I don't expect alot for a low airfare, but if I have a choice between paying a reasonable price for a ticket with a carrier that consistently provides superb service and a rather high price for the same with a carrier that provides less, I want value for my money. YX is the way to go!
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Sat Sep 30, 2000 2:28 am

Excuse me, but this is not a 7-11, it's a 757....Oh, and for all of our European contributors who brag about the levels of service on their state flag carriers who are propped up by tax dollars, deregulation hasn't matured yet in Europe. Ryanair is packing in their flights, and nobody seems to care that steak dinners are not being served. In the early 1980's, airlines on the Northeast to Florida markets used to brag about their service...staek and lobster with $99 fares. Eastern, Pan Am, Delta and the whole lot used to offer these services. With the growth of Southwest, Valujet (now AirTran), the former Kiwi, and others, nobody seems to want to pay for better service, they just want the absolute cheapest ticket that they can get. Look out Europe, you're going to look and act more and more like American carriers within the next few years.

RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Sat Sep 30, 2000 2:37 am

I like how Buzz does it. When you book your ticket online you can add a meal for your flight for just 7,- GBP extra. You can choose between a warm breakfast for the morning flights or a lunch/dinner for other times. The quality is ok.
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Sat Sep 30, 2000 2:42 am

Someone mentioned earlier that we should feel luck to be served warm food at all. Well, I was served a still FROZEN entree on a UTA flight from Lilongwe, Malawi to CDG about ten years ago, as I mention in another post re: UTA. I tapped the solid mass with my knife, the F/A looked at it with an embarassed grin, and brought me a piping hot one right after that. It was the best scallops I've ever had on a plane, let me tell you, so I just laughed off the experience.
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Sat Sep 30, 2000 3:30 am

A choice of deli sandwiches, fruit, juice.

Or a burrito, or a grilled chicken sandwich with a salad.

Stuff that reflects the way Americans live and eat today, especially when we are a culture on the run, and into fitness. You do NOT need more than a good, filling sandwich, fruit, and a beverage on a 2-3 hour flight. If nothing else, serving food that at least looks fresh and healthy such as this will give Airline food a new image.

Something simple that looks edible as opposed to a tiny tray filled with stuff wrapped up in celophane or covered that vaguely resembles meat with blue tin foil .

Atheism is Myth Understood.
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RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Sat Sep 30, 2000 3:45 am

Well Lufthansa, BA, Austrain, Swissair or British Midland are not state owned and they still always manage to serve you meal! And on a european trans-con flight like LHR-ATH that takes about 3 hours 30 minutes you can expect a nice big meal.


RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Sat Sep 30, 2000 4:06 am

If I paid $250 for good food, I would go to a five star restaurant, not American Airlines. I have low expectations of my meals on flights.

AA once did a study to save $$. They discovered if they removed 1 olive from salad in First Class, they could save a lot of $$$$$$$. Moral, don't expect meals to get better anytime soon.

RE: Your Meal Suggestions Please (gloves Off!)

Sat Sep 30, 2000 11:01 am


You get some peanuts today. You carp on about European carriers being state subsidised? Aussie carriers haven't for years and we still manage something decent.


More peanuts to you for your banal contribution. My god, McDonalds on aircraft? Could you not pick the lowest common denomenator of food? TWA you need help! lol (*grin*)


Great article.


I think a few people lost the plot of the thread. Some tried to contribute, but the concensus reached should be that full service carriers in the USA have absolutely no excuse not to provide a reasonable meal or snack.

The fact that someone pointed out that a certain airline worked out they could save x amount of dollars on cutting an olive out of their meals only proves my point that your carriers are ripping you off.

It's time to let the airlines know that "service" counts. People wonder why FA's and ground staff are so miserable sometimes - put yourself in their situation. Happy satisfied customers = happy staff and vice versa.


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