Will airlines follow food lead of cruise lines?

September 20, 2011

Two different worlds of food exist on cruises and flights. Should airlines emulate some of the flair of shipboard dining?

Plenty of cruise vacationers go on pre-trip diets because they expect to gorge on endless food. They find it hard to pass up so many eating opportunities throughout the day. And then they diet again once they return.

Now food quality, meal experiences and showmanship enhance the quantity food appeal of cruise lines – with gourmet options, tableside cooking, show kitchens broadcast to guest rooms so they can see chefs at work, wine experts, cookbook authors and guest chefs, according to a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal.   

How central is food on ships that feed a few thousand people a day? Stein Kruse, the chief executive of Holland America Lines, told the paper, “You could easily say this is an industrial process where the focus is on the delivery. But we set out to do the exact opposite….We ask ‘How do we make sure every individual meal, every individual person served, feels that there is care, attention, elegance, taste, temperature and flavor?”

So if food is such an important factor in cruise bookings and pleasing customers, is the time right for airlines to use food as a differentiator?

We’ve seen meal service in the skies decline to practically nothing. We’ve also seen airlines catch consumer ire for numerous fees, cramped seating and other reasons. The Lempert Report wonders if airlines could feasibly make flyers happier with their experience by upgrading foodservice, perhaps with celebrity-chef cuisine.

Better food – or for that matter, any food – would help distract flyers from less pleasant aspects of being in flight. But celebrity chef food, paired up with on-screen cooking entertainment and offered exclusively to a carrier, could elevate the experience and deliver new passengers. Food offering themes might vary with a flight’s destination – from TexMex to Italian, for example. They could help set a positive tone, fill more seats and give people a welcome reason to get on board.