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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

Air India’s latest cost-cutting measure: Well-travelled meals on long flights

But health experts warned that attempts to store food for long durations will need careful planning to avoid health risks and some products could go bad.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2019 23:56 IST

Hindustan Times, New Delhi
An Air India Airbus A320neo plane takes off in Colomiers near Toulouse, France.
An Air India Airbus A320neo plane takes off in Colomiers near Toulouse, France.(REUTERS)

Economy class passengers on Air India’s international flights can now bid for business class seats (which will be alloted if empty), although all passengers on such flights may have to put up with well-travelled meals during the in-flight services on return flights because the airline has decided to load food from India for both legs of the journey in a cost-saving exercise.

The airline, whose proposed stake sale was aborted last year after the government did not get any positive response from investors, will take food from India on long-haul flights and serve it during return journeys. The expenses of preparing and packing food from in countries are higher than that in India. “We spend about ~800 crore annually on catering. Although we have not estimated the benefit from this move, we certainly hope to save money by taking food from India,” said the official quoted above.

“We will not compromise on the quality of food, and will keep it in chillers to ensure the taste and quality remains good. Another advantage is that Indian guests will get food from home,” he added.

But health experts warned that attempts to store food for long durations will need careful planning to avoid health risks and some products could go bad.

“How long the food survives depends on the ingredients used and the temperature it is stored at. If it’s a milk-based product, for example, it will go bad soon. However, frozen items tend to last longer, especially in cold temperature,” said Neha Arora, a Delhi-based nutritionist.

Air India is experimenting with this food plan on its Stockholm, Birmingham,

Madrid and Copenhagen routes, and plans to implement it on flights to West Asia and South-east Asia soon. However, the airline will not do this for flights to the United States given the length of the journey and the layover.

In a separate scheme launched earlier this month, passengers booking tickets on Air India’s website can now take part in a bidding process. If they win, the airline will upgrade their seats on some international routes. Passengers will get to know if their bid is successful at the time of boarding. If not, the extra money paid while placing the bid will be refunded.

For example, a return business class ticket from Delhi-US costs around Rs 2.25 lakh. The fare for the same in the economy class is ~70,000. On this route, an economy class passenger will have to pay Rs 32,000 over and above the stipulated fare to qualify for the bidding. The extra amount will not exceed 75% of the regular business class fare.

Passengers winning in the bidding process will get a seat upgrade, though they won’t receive the benefits of lounge access or extra luggage entitlement that are enjoyed by business class flyers.

“We have already started the bidding for business class seats for flights to Australia, US, Europe, Hong Kong and Japan, and are getting good response. Our aim is to generate Rs 1 crore a day, and that is possible once we upgrade 1,000 passengers a day... Already, we are receiving about 300 bids every day, of which 50% are getting upgraded,” said a senior Air India official.

“There will be an add on cost as far as food and wine is concern. But Air India needs to ensure that genuine business class passengers have not stopped booking tickets and wait for the bidding process. As far as taking food from India is concerned, the scheme was tried in 1997 as well but was discontinued a year later. Yes, there is a need to cut cost but not on amenities,” said Jitender Bhargava, former executive director, Air India.

Air India sees an overall occupancy of about 80% (domestic and international combined), but business class occupancy is around 50%-60%, said the official who did not want to be named. The airline is experimenting with the bidding process to fill up business class seats. “We offer 72,000 seats daily, of which 4,500 are business class seats. This includes both domestic and international sectors,” the official said.

The official added that there are plans to implement the scheme for domestic flights, and a passenger can get a business class ticket between Delhi and Mumbai between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 (one way).

First Published: Jan 09, 2019 23:55 IST

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