Flight Plan

Breakfast or dinner: How do airlines decide when, and what, to serve?

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on September 04, 2019 Published on September 04, 2019

The process is not as simple as one might think, for factors other than food are involved

Even though there is no unanimity about the taste and quantity of food served on flights, airlines invest a lot of time, energy and money on deciding when to serve meals, and what to serve, on their international long-haul and ultra-long-haul flights.

The first service on a flight typically starts an hour or two after take-off. What is served depends on the time of day that the flight is taking off. George Ettiyil, Senior Director Sales, Lufthansa Group Airlines, South Asia, says the airline’s concept and food are developed according to the departure time.

“Early morning flights will have a hot breakfast, during day time Lufthansa serves a lunch (a hot meal) and, in the evening, a hot dinner is served,” he says. In case the flight is longer than 10 hours, a snack is also available.

According to Ettiyil, generally for flights leaving late night out of India, there are two meals served, one of which is a late dinner after take-off and then a meal before landing, which is breakfast.

Both Lufthansa and Swiss (which along with Austrian) are a part of the Lufthansa Group, serve a warm breakfast service on flights leaving India before landing at their destination as the flights reach early in the morning and with most fliers having connecting flights, a warm meal before reaching Germany/Switzerland helps.

Air India follows a different logic. If it is a 1 am departure from India, AI fliers will have either eaten at home or had something at the airport and would rather sleep than have a heavy meal. So, the airline normally dims the cabin lights and allows the passengers to sleep.

In sync with passenger

If it is a long-haul flight, say, Delhi-London, which is about nine hours, the crew will start turning on the lights after four to five hours to match about the time a passenger would be waking up at home. Passengers are then served a full breakfast. If there is still time left for the flight to land, another light meal might be served.

However, on an ultra-long-haul flight like Air India’s service from Washington DC to Delhi which leaves at about 11.15 am, chances are that flyers will like a proper lunch after the aircraft has levelled off or attained the height at which it will fly, which should take about 30 to 45 minutes. So, the airline serves a full, hot, lunch. On this flight, which normally takes 14 to 15 hours, the airline is also likely to serve two major meals like lunch or supper and also a light snack with juices.

Senior Vice-President, Catering, Emirates, Joost Heymeijer, says that the number of meals provided on Emirates flights varies depending on the length of the flight and the time of departure but there is always a service once the aircraft is cruising — whether a snack or a full meal. Each menu for every flight is designed considering the duration of the flight.

Explaining further, Heymeijer says that in case of long-haul flights, when boarding an 8 am flight, passengers are served breakfast followed by lunch and dinner along with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. “If boarding a 3 pm flight, the first meal would be lunch. If boarding an 11 pm flight, the first meal would be dinner followed by subsequent meals in all cases. Passengers can also order snacks from the on-board menu,” he adds.

Other airlines also give fliers the option of asking for snacks in between the regular service. Hot and cold beverages too are available on request. Typically, airlines carry about 15 extra meals on an aircraft seating 300 passengers.

Airline staff say it is extremely rare that passengers ask for additional food. They also caution that the options available for such additional snacks may be limited. Airlines prefer carrying limited food as serving on board is an expensive proposition costing anything between ₹300 and ₹400 per meal.

They also want to keep wastage to the minimum and also do not carry too much extra food as every additional meal is added weight for which the airline has to pick up more fuel, which is an expense for the carrier.

Published on September 04, 2019
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