In a move that is expected to prune Air India’s costs by almost Rs 8-10 crore per annum, the country’s flag-carrier has suspended serving non-vegetarian meals on its domestic flights in the economy class from the beginning of this month. An airline official said it had observed a trend where, over time, lesser passengers were preferring non-vegetarian food, which resulted in wastage of these meals on-board. “Air India has taken a conscious decision not to have non-vegetarian meals in economy class on its domestic flights to reduce wastage, reduce cost, and improve catering service,” said the airline’s spokesperson G Prasad Rao.
Before the decision was implemented, Air India’s economy passengers on domestic flights were served hot non-vegetarian meals only on flights with duration of over 90 minutes. For domestic flights with duration up to 90 minutes, vegetarian refreshments were served. Meal service on international flights, and for business class passengers in domestic flights remains unchanged. The decision to strike off non-vegetarian food from the economy class menu comes shortly after the Union Cabinet gave an in-principle approval for the disinvestment of Air India, which has around Rs 52,000 crore in debt.
Rao said the exercise of reducing costs of the airline and raising other revenue has been in the works for the last few years. “The process of rationalising costs has been going on at Air India for the last few years. The decision is taken as and when required. When so much of food is being wasted, you have to take a call. Earlier, we used to have offices in different places, it was all streamlined. We vacated the Mumbai Nariman Point office. Wherever disposable assets are there, we are taking care of that. We are also generating ancillary revenues such as advertising on boarding passes, baggage tags, etc,” Rao said.
Mark Martin, CEO of aviation consultancy firm Martin Consulting, said this development is broadly not likely to perturb airline preferences of Indian travellers but unlikely to have a big impact on Air India’s financials. “If you really want to reduce or wipe out costs, you will do away with the meal service entirely. Look at the amount of weight you’ll save on the aircraft, the turn-around time, the ground operation costs, the catering time and costs, cabin crew will be more productive,” Martin said. US-based airlines Delta and United don’t serve meals on short sectors, but only refreshments such as a cookie or a sandwich, said Martin.