NEW DELHI – Some bubbly to welcome you on board? Forget it. Caviar and prawns to nibble on while you settle in? Perish the thought. A Patiala peg of Blue Label to wash away those recession blues? Don’t even think about it. These are tough times, even if you have the dough to travel better than cattle class. As airlines cut corners to shed flab, food and beverage is the first casualty. Even in business and first class.
Take Air India. In a desperate attempt to skim the fat off its in-flight menu, it has removed champagne and pricier brands like Johnnie Walker Blue Label from its wine list on international flights. Even the quantity of food and water to be served onboard has been reduced to save costs. For example, the dessert serving has been reduced by around 20 grams. And some gourmet items such as king prawns and caviar have also been withdrawn from business and first class menus.
“Air India has decided to discontinue serving expensive liquor like Blue Label in its premium class. Food items such as lobster and caviar will also not feature on its menu,” said an Air India source.
Officially though, the stand is ‘business as usual’. An airline spokesperson maintained that any change in the wine list can only happen after the recommendation of the consultant concerned. “There is no change in wines. The current wines will continue till December 31, till stocks last and then be replaced by wines recommended by the consultant. Wines have a certain life span and stock level,” Air India executive director (corporate communication) Jitender Bhargava said.
“Menu changes are effected with every summer/winter schedule. As the winter schedule has been introduced effective October 26, changes, as usual, have taken place,” the Air India executive added.
Air India can be forgiven for trying to scrimp on its in-flight expenses. Nearly all carriers are trying to bring down on-board food and beverage costs. Besides reducing the grammage of dessert and quantity of hot meals, carriers are also shifting to low-cost food items. “Airlines have reduced the dessert grammage from 80 gm to 60 gm. They have also replaced dal makhani with yellow dal to cut cost. Yellow dal is cheaper than dal makhani. We are seeing the number of in-flight meals going down day by day,” a TajSATS Air Catering executive said.
Air India has already withdrawn toffees from all its domestic flights. It has also stopped serving expensive chocolates and bakery items in certain classes on international flights. The public sector airline lost over Rs 2,500 crore in 2007-08 and is expected to see bigger losses in the current financial year.
Air India’s losses are attributed to high fuel price, competition and underutilisation of resources. While fuel contributes over 40% of the operating cost of an airline, other major components are manpower and aircraft maintenance. In a move to cut fuel cost, the airline recently got a fuel gap analysis done by International Air Transport Association (IATA). It is currently implementing IATA’s suggestions in a phased manner.