Imagine paying a few extra dollars to get fresh sushi on your flight, instead of what might otherwise be a microwaved TV dinner (image courtesy of KLM.com)
Now it’s possible to dine out at 37,000 feet, even when you’re sitting in a coach class seat.
In an ever-evolving world where airlines have latched onto the use of ancillary services to provide extra perks for customers, a few carriers have ventured into the option of selling “premium economy class meals” for an extra charge on flights, taking it to the next level of incorporating value-added services as part of the in-flight experience.
On-board catering, once a complimentary commodity offered on pretty much any standard flight in coach class, has been scaled down significantly over the years as airlines have cut back on services to protect their bottom lines. While many frequent fliers have learned to contend with these changes, there are still a remaining few coach travelers willing to “up-sell” and pay a bit extra in exchange for quality offerings at a reasonable price.
The airlines have also discovered there are major incentives for providing consumer-friendly innovations, beyond just the extra revenue gained from offering add-on sales mid-flight. Going the extra mile, especially in an effort to restore the fervor for high-quality in-flight services, can earn airline huge marks from passengers in overall customer satisfaction, which adds many intangible benefits to their brand recognition.
At present, there are two stand-out examples of global carriers who have ventured into the Premium Economy Class meals space, which include Skyteam alliance partners Delta Air Lines, Inc. and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The former is fairly new to the game, and so far has limited its test markets to offering their product on transcontinental flights between New York and California. The latter has been utilizing the practice for several years now, and offers the service on all of its intercontinental flights originating at its hub in Amsterdam Schiphol airport in the Netherlands.
By now, most domestic US fliers are accustomed to the traditional “Buy-on-board” method, which has become fairly commonplace over the years. Generally, buy-on-board offerings entail snack-sized goods or compilation boxes sold on flights over 2 hours, or pre-packaged sandwiches and salads on longer flights over 3 hours, and range anywhere between $3-10 in price. The options are fairly static, although reasonably-priced, but offer nothing above and beyond what a passenger can purchase in a local convenience store and bring on-board themselves.
Premium Meals, on the other hand, transcend the typical experience of in-flight snacks-for-sale by offering high-quality luxury fare which can be pre-ordered and pre-purchased ahead of time, either at booking or up to 48 hours in advance for a flight. Although slightly more expensive, these offerings are designed by the airlines’ chief chefs, aka the ones who also create the First and Business class menus on long haul flights, as opposed to the SnackBox, which basically comes directly from any wholesale manufacturer, such as Costco.
Delta’s Premium Economy Dining was initially rolled out in January 2012, and offered exclusively on flights operating between New York JFK International Airport (JFK) and Los Angeles International (LAX), or JFK and San Francisco International (SFO), in both directions. Although the trial offering was originally intended to be tested solely between the months of January and March, it has now been extended to September, perhaps indicating its popularity among Delta customers.
Passengers opting for this service simply have to follow the link to delta.dineup.com and register their name, age and flight information to order their meals. Meal services are traditionally only available on afternoon flights between the specified test markets, and are limited to pre-listed flight numbers which the passenger much choose from a drop-down menu bar. From there, they can select between a chilled entrée or a salad, ranging between $10.99 to $17.99 in price, depending on the offering. Delta also lists the number of items remaining for sale for that particular flight (usually no more than 10 of each offering is available) and the option to “Like” the offering to promote it on one’s Facebook account.
Sample items for the month of April include (taken directly from Delta.com):
- An Antipasto Entrée of Smoked Salmon and Grilled Herb Chicken, with prosciutto and dried figs, wedges of smoked Gouda and Manchego cheeses, pecan nuts, and fresh strawberries with dried apricots and plums. Alongside sliced smoked salmon over fresh fennel slaw and grilled herb-rubbed chicken breast, sliced, with bell pepper and asparagus. Mango dipping sauce on the side. Served chilled. ($17.99)
- Or, a Greek Entrée Salad with Rosemary Grilled Shrimp: grilled rosemary shrimp served over a bed of crisp romaine lettuce, fresh roma tomatoes, slices of cucumber and red onion, kalamata olives and feta cheese. Greek vinaigrette dressing on the side ($10.99)
Various other combinations and permutations exist, such as choosing beef tenderloin in lieu of chicken in the antipasto dish, or grilled chicken in place of shrimp in the Greek salad.
At KLM, the model follows a slightly different variation: whereas Delta does not offer a complimentary meal service on the flights where it offers Premium Economy Dining for sale, KLM’s a la carte menu in Economy class is available for purchase on all inter-continental flights originating in Amsterdam, in addition to the standard complimentary catering. Normally, KLM offers a choice between two options at no charge for passengers seated in the rear cabin (likely defaulted to the cliched “chicken or pasta”), but for an extra 12-15 Euro (approximately $15.70-20.00 USD), a passenger can elect to pre-order 1 of 5 special meals when booking their flight, from 90 days to 48 hours in advance. Options include:
- “Dutch tradition” which includes items such as kale, sausage, fish fillets, Dutch cheeses, and biscuit mousse
- “Japanese Delight” with an entrée of sushi, chicken with steamed rice and vegetables, and Japanese ‘soba’ noodle salad with smoked salmon
- “Bella Italia” with a starter salad with organic veal rib-eye, risotto primavera, and tiramisu
- “Nature’s favorite” with a fruit salad, falafel, chevre goat chese, black beans, spinach, baked sweet pumpkin, and lemon dessert with pecans.
- “Indonesian rice dishes” a popular culinary tradition among the Dutch, which includes thin bami noodles, vegetables, chicken sate, banana chips, a sweet-spicy rice called ikan bumbu rujak nas, Asian fruit salad with tamarind, and spekkoek: several thin layers of cake in two colours.
“Nature’s Favorite” available for sale on KLM, which includes a richly varied, all-natural dinner for the health-conscious traveler
Indonesian rice dishes, featuring a ketoprak salad made from thin bami (noodles) and vegetables; chicken saté (chicken kebab with spicy peanut sauce) accompanied by banana chips and deep-fried onion bits; ikan bumbu rujak nasi, a sweet-spicy rice dish featuring fried pangasius as the main course; a little serving of sambal (hot chilli sauce); coconut and sweet potato salad and an Asian fruit salad with roedjak sauce (sweet soy sauce with tamarind and a dash of crushed chilli); and finally, spekkoek: several thin layers of cake in two colours.
The a la carte items on KLM are not offered on flights between Amsterdam and Cairo, San Francisco, Tel Aviv and Toronto. Passengers who ordinarily order a special meal for religious, dietary, and medical purposes are not permitted to order an a la carte meal.
KLM even took it a step further and produced a funny YouTube clip promoting its “a la carte” items, titled, “taste differ – let our chefs inspire you” and allows the user to click on the sub-screens to view 1 minute clips detailing each of the five offerings:
It will be interesting to see if other carriers/competitors follow suit. For now, we can at least applaud these two legacy carriers for boldly exploring uncharted territories when it comes to implementing creative concepts to enhance the passenger travel experience.