Contrary to our opinion, airlines work on very meagre margins , especially the low cost airlines. The biggest impact for them is that of the aviation fuel cost. Amidst these discussions with Kiran Jain, Commercial Director at Air Asia, I am looking at the food spread which is arriving at our table on my recent visit to the catering unit of Air Asia in Delhi.
I look back few years ago and remember that airline food in cattle (economy) class was hardly anything to look forward to. I have flown business class many a times on official work and there too barring the fancy cutlery and an extra glass of juice or fresh milk, I could hardly find any difference. Unfortunately alcohol is still not allowed in Indian skies.
Then came the low cost airlines like Indigo, whose Junglee sandwich I immensely enjoyed. Obviously the meal was paid but atleast I could eat something that I like instead of those stretchy paranthas in a well known airline. However Indigo hardly introduced any changes on their menu and soon I got bored looking at the same items. Thanks to Air Asia, which is less than 2 years old in India and is bringing a change to the way we eat in the sky. Not only have they changed the menu on every weather change (like sarson ka saag in winters), they also plan for specials around festivals like Navratras. I am told they are also planning a menu for Moharram where they will serve khajoor and salt for people to break their fast.
This is easier said than done when over 2500 meals are to be served on board on a daily basis. That too with various variants for different people! And once the flight has taken off, it is not possible to get something if it is in short supply. Here also Air Asia plays intelligently and cut costs by boarding food for two sectors in one go. The food and other income apart from seat sales is classified as ancillary sales and though it may not make a major impression on their top line but certainly helps in correcting the bottom line. Hence it becomes crucial to innovate in this segment that helps airlines become a flight of choice and improve the load factor.
I tried many of their dishes. While the cashews, popcorns etc are fairly priced, I loved what their kitchen makes as per their recipe. Laccha parantha with tangy choley and cutlet became one of my favourite, as much as I liked the soft omelette. Even the south Indian platter of idly and upma or innovating broccoli parantha is sufficient for a person. Not only this, they are soon introducing non alcoholic beer in the sky. Impressive to see how a Malaysian airline has made efforts to cater to Indian taste buds!
In my last flight with my family with Air Asia, my daughter was very happy to see an airline serving ice creams. Kiran says that they are focussing on serving healthy food which is tasty yet offers choice to the flyers. Air Asia also tries to reduce food wastage (currently at 16% of food onboard) by giving around 20% discount to people who pre-book. So even if it is not for discount, try and book the meal in advance to help contribute to the cause and avoid food wastage.
Food is an essential part of our lives and for flyers especially frequent flyers any airline that offers a variety and quality will always be an attraction.