From t-shirts to in-flight meals: airlines hustle to survive

Shutterstock / Sorbis

With the air travel restricted, airlines are looking for ways to recreate the experience on the ground. Carriers get creative and offer grounded passengers to purchase in-flight snacks, meals, clothing and even fully stocked bar carts. 

In-flight meals 

For the travel-starved passengers, Finnair is offering in-flight dining brought home. Finland’s national airline started selling its business class menu in a grocery store in the city of Vantaa, Finland.

The initiative named “Taste of Finnair” was created to bring the luxury airline dining home. While the air travel is restricted due to the coronavirus crisis, Finnair offers this experience to everyone who misses flying. 

The project is aimed to offer work prospects to Finnair staff. “This is a new business opening for us and employs our chefs,” said Marika Nieminen, vice president of Finnair Kitchen. “As so many of Kitchen’s employees are temporarily laid off, we can create new work and employment for our people.”

Finnair introduced dishes inspired by Nordic and Japanese flavors. The menu includes Finish reindeer meatballs, beef in teriyaki-radish sauce and smoked arctic char. Meals were modified to contain less salt than classic in-flight food as taste is dulled down when flying in high altitudes. 

Every two weeks the menu changes. A relatively high price (12.90€ for the main dish) is justified by the food’s high quality. 

Other companies, Indonesia’s Garuda and Cathay Pacific, also started selling their in-flight meals to the general public.

Dining on board 

Thai Airways, which filed for bankruptcy in May 2020, transformed the cafeteria of its Bangkok headquarters into an airline-themed restaurant. The restaurant now serves about 2,000 meals per day. Varied dishes made by an international team of chefs so far has been a success. 

To generate revenue, the national carrier is also starting a ‘THAI Flying Experience & Beyond’ program. It offers ‘flights to nowhere’ as well as flight simulator rides.  

Singapore airlines went one step further and on October 24, 2020, opened a pop-up aviation themed restaurant at Singapore Changi airport. The experience is part of the company’s “Discover Your Singapore Airlines (SIA1) (SINGY)” program. 

The carrier offers a dining experience in the world’s biggest passenger jet, the Airbus A380. Options include the company’s signature international cuisine, as well as dishes designed by Shermay Lee, a locally-acclaimed chef. It sold around 900 lunch tickets in the first 30 minutes after the registration opened and had to add 6 additional dates.

“We have created unique activities that would allow us to engage with our fans and customers during this time. These experiences offer something for everyone – from frequent flyers who miss our world-class in-cabin products and service, to couples and families who want an exclusive dining experience,” the airline said in a statement.

Airplane snacks and drinks  

COVID-19 pandemic took away snacking while flying. United Airlines stopped in-flight catering and its supplier GNS Foods was left with more than 30,000 pounds of excess food. Faced with the risk of spoilage, the company decided to sell them at discounted prices. “GNS Foods now selling elite status airline nut mixes at near cost”, commented the supplier. 

To reduce physical transactions between flight crew and passengers, JetBlue Airways is no longer offering snacks either. The cheese and cracker trays are sold through Imperfect Foods, a national US grocery delivery company. It aims to help grounded airlines and offers opportunities to reduce food waste.

In 2019 British Airways introduced its signature Pickering’s Gin. The centenary gin was made available to purchase on short-haul flights in May 2019 as part of the airline’s 100-year anniversary celebrations. Due to COVID-19, British Airways had to suspend its Buy Onboard service and was left with excess inventory. The company decided to sell the drink online – a case of 24 mini bottles for 32.00£. 

Stocked bar carts and designer accessories 

In September, 2020, Qantas Airways sold 1,000 stocked bar carts, taken from its recently retired Boeing 747 fleet. To recreate the flight service at home, the carts include bottles of champagne and wine, some snacks and even a first class Qantas pillow. The price for one cart was around 1,400$. 

“While we no longer have use for them, they still have life in them, especially for those with an appreciation for aviation collectibles and an eye for design”, said Phil Capps, the executive manager of product and service at Qantas.

After the success of sold-out bar carts, the airline started a collaboration with Australian fashion designer Martin Grant. Together they created a collection of cashmere sweaters, hoodies, T-shirts and beach bags. They are sold on Qantas online store with prices ranging from 150$ to 425$. 


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