Hungry onboard? Post Covid-19 lockdown, in-flight meals to be back on the table

To check the spread of the coronavirus, the government states that the tray set-up, plates and cutlery on flights should be completely disposable with no reuse

Hungry onboard? Post Covid-19 lockdown, in-flight meals to be back on the table
Meal served on a Vistara flight. Image courtesy: Twitter/@NegiTweets

After remaining suspended for over five months, in-flight hot meal service on flights will now gradually start. All the flight kitchens in India have begun working on safety procedures and automation to produce hot meals for the Indian carriers.

According to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) recently announced Centre, domestic airlines can now serve pre-packed meals, snacks and beverages depending upon its policy. In the case of international flights, on the other hand, airlines may serve hot meals with limited beverages according to the standard practices.

The SOP clearly underlines that airlines have to ensure that the tray set-up, plates and cutlery are completely disposable with no reuse.

To keep a check on the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government had instructed the airlines to suspend their meal and beverage and in-flight entertainment services when flight operations resumed in the domestic segment from May 25 and in the international segment under Vande Bharat Mission since May 7. Both the services were suspended from March in view of Covid-19 pandemic.

Also read: Covid-bitten Indian aviation punches back, but still quite shaky

IndiGo, in a mail to its passengers, announced that it is ready to serve meals on domestic and selected international flights. The airline said that the passengers would need to pre-book snacks as onboard sale is currently not permitted. “In order to minimise contact, snacks are open for pre-bookings only and purchase of the same is not available onboard. This way, your snack reaches you quicker while our crew serves with minimal contact.”

Meanwhile, officials at Air India said that the airline would serve only vegetarian hot items and beer as the only alcoholic beverage on its international flights from September 7.  Before the lockdown, the national carrier used to have a wide variety of alcoholic offerings like scotch, vodka, wine, gin and beer. A senior airline officer said that Air India would be serving vegetable biryani with raita, salad, bread roll and butter on international flights.

Also read: India begins Covid-19 testing at airport for incoming passengers

The carrier will also serve pre-packed snacks/meals along with non-alcoholic beverages on domestic flights by the same date.

A senior Air India official said, “From the coming week, we will start liquor service on all classes of international flights which for now will be limited to beer.” The hot meal service will also start around the same time as the provision for disposable cutlery is being made. The airline currently has been keeping pre-packed snacks, meals, non-alcoholic beverages and water bottles in packets on the seats of its international flights to minimise crew-passenger interaction. The snack box will include items like kathi rolls, croissants, nuts etc. Extra water bottles would be kept in the galley which flyers can pick according to their requirement.

Another full-service airline Vistara, which also operates on international routes as part of the Vande Bharat and air bubble arrangements, said it was planning to serve pre-packed meals and beverages on domestic flights as well beginning next week.

The flight kitchen operators are seeing the move to start in-flight meals as a ray of hope as demand hit rock bottom in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown and suspension of air travel. Demand is still drastically low but flight kitchens are optimistic that the numbers will shoot up.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, our flight kitchen in Delhi used to prepare 40,000 airline meals a day but now it has come down to as low as 5,000 meals. Similarly in Mumbai, the number was 20,000 meals per day, but currently, it is not more than 1,500-2,000 meals,” said a senior official of an airline catering company which has a kitchen near the Delhi airport.

An official of a flight kitchen in Mumbai said that special focus is being given on hygiene and automation. “The unit is working on one-tenth of its total staff as we are trying to maintain social distancing. Those involved in cooking and packing are wearing masks, sunglasses, hairnets and gloves. And on top of everything a loud buzzer goes off every 30 minutes to remind employees of washing their hands,” the official said.

Health experts, however, claim that there are fewer chances of getting infected through food as Covid-19 is a respiratory infection but removing face masks while eating increases the risk in a closely-packed area. Airlines must, therefore, look for a staggered food service.