Flight food and choice

The topic of outrage for the day on Twitter seems to be Air India’s decision to serve only vegetarian food on flights that last less than 90 minutes. Predictably, given the current government’s policies and track record so far, people are decrying this as some sort of a “brahminical conspiracy”. This was even quoted as  a reason to privatise Air India (while I don’t agree with this reason, I fully agree that there are several other reasons to privatise Air India).

While outragers will outrage (and they might have a pathological need to outrage), this decision of Air India actually has sound basis. I had touched upon this in an earlier  blog post about why I get irritated with Indigo’s in-flight service.

The problem is that the more the choice you give customers, the slower the overall service will be. While this may not affect people seated in rows where service begins, it can be an immense cause of frustration for passengers who are seated in rows that will be served last.

In longer duration flights, this matters less since people who are served last will have sufficient amount of time to finish their meals before the trays have to be cleared in time for the flight to land. On shorter flights, however, the time available for meal service is so short that it is possible that trays might have to be cleared barely after a section of the passengers have started eating.

Eliminating choice significantly speeds up the meal delivery process (refer to my post on Indigo’s food for more on this), and ensures that people who have been served last have sufficient time to finish their meals before trays have to be cleared. While it may not take much time for the steward to ask the customer her choice, considering the total cycle time (along with passengers asking details of the menu, etc.) and the number of passengers to be served, cutting choice is a sound decision indeed.

As for the vegetarian option, when there is no choice offered, it is natural to go with the option that satisfies the maximum number of people. Considering that Indians don’t eat much meat (while only a small proportion of Indians are vegetarian, overall meat consumption is very low), it is a rather obvious choice that only vegetarian food will be served.

This is a commendable decision by Air India and I hope they stick to it. I hope other airlines will also learn from this and cut choice in their inflight menus (Indigo, I’m looking at you) so that passengers can be served with the minimum uncertainty and minimum fuss.

Tailpiece The above linked NDTV Profit piece has a bizarre comment from an expert. Quoting:

However, according to travel industry expert Rajji Rai, the state-owned airline should have first carried out a passenger survey, which is an industry practice, before affecting any change in the menu.

“Airlines world over carry out customer surveys before taking such decisions. Unfortunately, Air India is very poor in such practices. This decision to discontinue non-vegetarian food on these non-metro flights is just one-sided,” he said.

Surveys are overrated in my opinion, and there is no reason Air India should have conducted a survey before making this decision – for they have access to significant amounts of actual customer preferences over a large number of schedules. The value of a survey in this case is at best marginal

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