The future of airline food

Being trapped in your seat while flight attendants struggle with trolleys and block the aisles could be a thing of the past should a savvy airline pick up on this brilliant idea to replace trolley service with automat-style ordering.

The automated ‘vending machines’ would be linked to smartphones and passengers would essentially be able to order what they want when they want.

According to Travel + Leisure, passengers could check out the menu choices on an app, place their order and then collect it from one of the self-service stations onboard.

And it’s not just food and beverages that could be made available, comfort items such as neck pillows, eye-masks, amenity kits, headphones and duty-free luxury goods could also be on the menu.

“We’re looking for ways to increase choice for passengers and the general drive for having what they want when they want it,” said Bernadette Berger, associate creative director at Seattle-based design firm TEAGUE.

Robotic galleys could be installed in the belly of the plane to make room for more seating (ahem, more legroom please!), and passengers would be alerted when food orders were ready for passengers to collect from service stations. Orders could be scheduled so passengers could enjoy a sleep then wake to a meal or beverage instead of having to wait for prescribed service times.

Self-service in-flight meals, controlled by apps and automation, could also have a positive environmental impact. They could help airlines to reduce food waste and rubbish generated by food packaging and cut the weight of onboard equipment so the plane would burn less fuel and have a lower carbon footprint.

Carriers could also offer more choices, partnering with other brands or even giving passengers the option to pre-order from airport restaurants, with meals to be served in-flight through the automated system.

“Airlines could partner with other luxury brands and other food brands, and have co-branded products,” said Ms Berger.

“You can imagine where an airline could lean into partnerships with brands like Starbucks. It could be a better food experience for the passenger, but also offer name-brand recognition.

“The next step is tying this thinking to the additional points along the journey.

“Ordering through an app and tying that to the services and the restaurants that you experience at the airport, hotel or other transportation hubs.”

Anna Petrova, a design student at Stroganov Moscow State University of Industrial and Applied Arts, has another idea to solve the problem of being stuck in your seat while attendants serve the masses. Her idea may also take the strain away from flight attendants serving food and beverages.

“[Passengers] face a lot of inconvenience,” Ms Petrova told Travel + Leisure.

“I faced this problem during one of my trips. My flight lasted just six hours, but it was very uncomfortable to seat near galley and to see frequently running stewards and people asking for additional glass of water. And also it bothered me very much to see a ‘huge metal case’ from which they take out our food.”

Ms Petrova has designed a height-adjustable trolley that runs along the aisle on an overhead rail, making it easier for flight attendants to push and eliminating the repetitive bending required to remove the trays. The rail trolley can be shifted so it doesn’t block the aisles when passengers need to get through.

While it is unlikely that we’ll see any of these innovations implemented soon, Ms Berger believes that we may see incremental changes over time.

What do you think of these changes?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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