Why not serve food at airport (for short haul flights)?

Eating is an integral part of survival. It is an integrated part of our travel experience. Almost all flights in the world either serve some free food (full service airlines) or sell food (low cost carriers). But is it really necessary to eat in a flight, particularly short haul ones (just a few hours)?

Serving food inflight has several complications

  • Airlines need to declare a menu, anticipate how much quantity of various items are needed
  • These food items need to be sourced when on ground and loaded on to the plane
  • Extra equipment and space need onboard to store food items, plates/trays, cutleries, trash, ovens/heaters
  • Cabin crew need to wait till seat belt signs are turned off and need to finish before descent, along with other duties like safety demonstration, garbage collection etc (on a 2 hour flight, effectively 60-70 minutes of time will be available for serving 180 people (in an A320 or B737)
  • Passengers need to wait a long time till the trolly comes to them and need to select from limited options
  • Passengers need to eat in an extremely confined space, taking extra precautions not to spill the food
  • Turbulence can cause issues while meals service is on
  • Going to toilet is difficult when there are food carts on the alley or other passengers have food on their tray.
  • Lots of garbage management to collect empty plates and dispose
  • So many food items are not suitable for eating at high altitude (like fish with bones, which are choking risk)

So why bother with so much circus trying to serve food onboard? I have a better idea

Serve food while passengers are waiting at the gate to board, or after arrival at destination airport


  • Lots of space- passengers can eat at their convenience
  • Cheaper- serving food on ground is lot cheaper than carrying it into the plane to be served at 30000 ft. Airline will save money.
  • Lots of options- if passengers want anything else (like a juice or coke) they can buy in airport, not limited by options available with airline
  • Less workload/stress for cabin crew: Serving on ground is lot easier. Less workload for cabin crew
  • Less weight to carry- more fuel economy and savings
  • Relaxed flight- passengers need not wake up from sleep or struggle to eat food in the confined space- they can sleep peacefully and land
  • Faster turnaround: With time saved for loading food items, emptying trash etc, a plane can turn around faster
  • More seats: Airlines can have a few more seats on the space saved by food trolly storage space, kettle, oven space, trash storage space etc

So why not airlines going for this option?

I feel following are the reasons

  • Airlines can’t control the experience- airlines are scared to break the tradition and try something new?
  • Loss of revenue: passengers will have lots of options in the ground- they may buy from a shop instead, so if airlines try to sell food on ground for same price, passengers will buy something cheaper from an airport store.
  • Delay in boarding? If people come to gate late, delay eating then boarding maybe delayed
  • Airport fees may increase: If there will be more trash left behind by passengers, airports will ask more money from airlines per passenger
  • People are scattered: In a plane all passengers are together. At airport few are in a lounge, few in smoking room, few shopping, few late & yet to clear security, few trying to figure out where is their gate etc. So might be hard to ensure everyone reaches early with enough time for food. 
  • Airport gates are not designed for eating: while airports have food stalls and some places to sit and eat, most seats around the gate are not suitable for eating- like need space to keep the food tray, water bottle etc- so passenger experience may not be optimal if they have to hold the plate in one hand all the time and eat.

It is also said that our taste buds are not at their best when at 30000 ft in a pressured cabin. So airlines can get away giving bland food. On the group people may not like the same food.


What do you think?

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