No Non-Veg Meals For AI’s Passengers

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New Delhi: Passengers flying economy class with Air India on domestic routes won’t be served non- vegetarian food as the carrier wants to cut down on costs and stop wastage.

“This is an attempt to rationalise costs. We have also realised that this will reduce wastage to a great extent because we carry extra vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals,” Air India CMD Ashwani Lohani said.

He said that the airline will be taking more such steps in future to reduce its expenses, including in the catering department. Serving one type of meal to passengers in economy class will also make the job of crew members “simpler”, Lohani said.

An airline spokesperson told television channels that the decision was taken last week. “On domestic flights, majority of which are less than two hours long, a meal is just an add on and not really worthy of a major concern,” Lohani later wrote on his Facebook page after the airline’s latest move triggered a debate.

An Air India official, who did not wished to be named, explained the move, “70 per cent of our meals are veg. Most Indian passengers opt for the veg meal and there are hardly any takers for the non-veg meal. Also, you can’t serve non-veg to a vegetarian but vice versa is possible.”

The official also said that this will help avoid arguments between crew members and passengers if they insist on a particular kind of meal, which may have been exhausted.

A former airline official explained how restricting choice of food onboard a plane paves the way for a hassle-free service. “When you have just one type of meal to offer then you can just start from one end (of the aircraft) and finish at the other end, which helps you improve efficiency. Secondly, if you offer a choice then you have to ask a customer whether he or she prefers vegetarian or non-vegetarian, which is a more time-consuming exercise.

“Thirdly, so that you don’t run out of either the vegetarian or non-vegetarian meals you carry surplus food, which adds to wastage.”

Last year, Air India replaced veg and non-veg sandwiches with veg hot meals on flights of up to 90 minutes duration. It had also decided to strike off both tea and coffee from its lunch and dinner menu. However, on Twitter, several people took pot shots at the national carrier for the move.

Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah wasn’t convinced with the rationale behind the move. “With Rs 50,000 crores of accumulated losses this will restore Air India to full health in…. oh heck 5000 years.

Well worth it :),” Abdullah wrote tongue-in-cheek. “Low cost is a philosophy not a strategy. AI strikes non-vegetarian food off menu for economy class travellers #FAIL,” said @CaptShaktiLumba.

Madhu Menon tweeted, ” Only veg food on Air India. Next, flight attendants to speak only Hindi. After that, stand for national anthem before flight take-off.” “Air India is unable to sort veg and non-veg boxes accurately. But is to be trusted to fly people,” said Veena Venugopal.

But there were those who sided with Air India too. “A lot of low-cost airlines simplify food choices. Airlines in Lat Am, for e.g, sometimes just have a chicken/ham sandwich as the only option. Simple business sense suggests that any loss making entity should attempt to optimise and cut costs & more food options = more cost,” wrote Krish Ashok in a series of tweets.

Last month the AI CMD had appealed to senior executives to work towards boosting the airline’s revenue at a time it is saddled with a debt of Rs 52,000 crore. “Let us become aggressive commercially and display a major spurt in revenues,” he told his colleagues.

In response to this, an official had suggested that the airline could do away with salad in meals on international flights and carry fewer copies of Air India’s in-flight magazine. Many airlines world over are known for coming up with novel ways to cut costs, majority of which is accounted for by the fuel bill.

A few years ago, a domestic airline in India decided to employ only female flight attendants on weight grounds. In the 1980s, an American carrier found that if one olive was removed from every salad served to the passengers, it would save up to USD 40,000 a year.