Singapore Airlines announced on Wednesday last week that it has become the first airline globally to offer meal pre-ordering for passengers flying premium classes across its entire network.
Sold as a customer benefit, it will inevitably reduce costs for the carrier as part of the three-year transformation programme. Provided they get it right, it shouldn’t upset anyone either.
What this isn’t
Before we get into what is happening it’s important to first establish what isn’t happening.
‘Book the Cook’, SIA’s extensive menu where you can pre-order from a wide range of dishes (60+ in some cases) up to 24 hours prior to departure when flying in Suites, First Class, Business Class or Premium Economy from selected departure points, is not being extended across the whole network.
Such a rollout would be fantastic for premium passengers, but prohibitively costly and no doubt complex for the airline.
‘Book the Cook’ is currently available on all flights departing Singapore and those departing 27 other airports on the network, meaning a total of 75% of all Singapore Airlines flights currently feature a book the cook option for eligible passengers (approximately 190 of 250 daily departures).
Looking at long-haul SIA flights of 8 hours or more, ‘Book the Cook’ coverage increases to 85% of flights, with only a few notable exceptions including the world’s longest flight from Newark to Singapore, which remarkably still lacks this option. We’re told that one is set to be resolved next year however.
‘Book the Cook’ will remain available for departures from almost 30 cities on the SIA network, with no plans announced to expand the list at this time.
So what is this?
What is being offered is the ability for premium customers (those travelling in Suites, First and Business Class for now, with future rollout for Premium Economy customers in 2019) to pre-select their choice of main course from the in-flight menu on all Singapore Airlines flights.
You will be able to do this online from three weeks before your departure date, with the deadline for locking in your main course choice set at 24 hours prior to departure. That’s the same as the ‘Book the Cook’ deadline, if that is also available on your flight.
Singapore Airlines has in fact already been making the in-flight menu available to view in advance of your flight for around a year now, and our experience is that it is viewable just under six weeks before your departure date (though it seems pre-selection will still be limited to three weeks before).
This new pre-order feature follows a trial, which began in August this year on selected North Asia routes, and is designed to ensure all premium cabin passengers get their first choice of meal onboard.
Of course that’s a benefit for the passenger, but what it also means for Singapore Airlines is less cost. With main courses paired up individually to most passengers in advance (they hope), the airline can reduce the volume of meals loaded, saving the cost of the meals themselves, reducing waste and with the ultimate goal being less catering (weight) loaded on each flight, also saving fuel.
Some of the options
Singapore Airlines has provided some examples of the main courses you can pre-order using this service.
Selections are route dependent (again this isn’t ‘Book the Cook’), but include dishes such as Beef Fillet, Lamb Loin and the Japanese ‘Hanakoireki’ bento box concept.
Mixed feelings on this one. It’s no doubt a cost-cutting measure from Singapore Airlines, though we should all support a policy that leads to less waste. Airlines throw away tonnes of perfectly edible food every day, and regrettably it’s nearly all supplied in plastic packaging – for hygiene and food safety reasons.
It seems plastic-free solutions are possible though.
Even if only half of all eligible passengers on a flight pre-book their main course choice or make a ‘Book the Cook’ selection, this new policy should mean SIA then only needs to ‘over-cater’ a limited selection for the remaining customers.
This should help on certain routes, such as flights from Japan in Business Class where we hear it is common for the popular Japanese main course option to run out before the crew have reached the back of the cabin.
To us though there’s also something nice about settling into Business Class and perusing the menu, then deciding what you want to eat based on how you feel on the day (or night). It seems to slightly detract from the experience to know in advance what you’ll be eating.
Again maybe we’re lucky but we have never experienced our first choice of meal being unavailable on a Singapore Airlines flight in First or Business Class, and whenever we have changed our minds after making a ‘Book the Cook’ selection and instead opted for something on the in-flight menu it has always been offered (though of course we understand this can’t be guaranteed).
Perhaps that’s an indication of just how much over-catering, and therefore waste and cost, the airline bears on every flight.
The more people who take up the pre-order option, or ‘Book the Cook’ on applicable routes, the more we think SIA will reduce the contingency dishes carried, and this will lead to less choice for passengers who simply change their mind.
When your boss insists on taking you for a steak dinner after your meeting before you head to the airport, you might regret having pre-ordered the steak on board, especially if the crew then have to relay the bad news to you that no other main course options on the menu are available. You chose it, you get it.
To us, that’s not what Business Class (or First Class for that matter) is about. A reasonable oversupply of catering in premium classes remains essential, and we hope Singapore Airlines will be careful when adjusting the catering volumes while this new policy settles in to try and avoid situations like this.
When I took Qatar Airways for the first time in a few years to review the new Qsuite from Frankfurt to Doha in September, they ran out of my main course preference by the time they reached my seat. These things happen, but incredibly the same occurred on my next flight with Qatar a few hours later from Doha to Bangkok!
That really isn’t acceptable in Business Class and since many customers will wait until they are on board to make their menu selection it’s essential in our view that Singapore Airlines does not make that kind of experience a regular occurrence for customers.
Here’s hoping they get the balance right with this one.
(Cover Photo: Singapore Airlines)