Singapore Airlines' (SIA) CEO, Goh Choon Phong, has admitted that the airline could have done better when it came to its removal of appetisers and the use of paper boxes for its in-flight meals.
Goh was addressing the strong feedback that customers gave to the airline regarding paper boxes that were part of a trial that was rolled out in March this year for economy meals on some medium-and long-haul flights. The trial was part of SIA’s efforts to enhance the in-flight experience on medium and long-haul flights by offering more main course options such as laksa, mee siam, and congee. Certain food items were also removed during the pandemic as well as to reduce food waste.
In particular, the food caused much upset on social media by netizens, many who complained that the paper boxes looked cheap and that it did not fit in with the company's 'world class' branding, a campaign it rolled out this year. Many also took offense with the quality of SIA's food with a Reddit user recently taking to the platform to show pictures of the meals being served.
In the post, the user asked if the quality of food in SIA's Economy class has been downgraded. The post drew many commenters with many chiming in to say that the food looked like it was from a 'budget airline' and with many saying that it now resembled food from the local army camps.
SIA has since noted that it will not proceed with the paper boxes and that it will resume serving appetisers in its meals. However, Goh noted to CNA that the airline "learnt a lesson" and that it is not just about how the food tastes but also the perception passengers might have when they use paperware onboard.
He noted that the move made SIA look "cheap" and like it was a cost-cutting measure. This is despite SIA clarifying that the new serviceware on trial actually cost more than its disposable plastic casserole dish and that it has not been cutting costs with regards to its in-flight meals.
It said in an earlier statement:
Our current budget for in-flight meals is approximately 20% higher than that for FY2019/20
Goh noted that the airline should have paid more attention to how the paper packaging might be perceived by customers.
He prefaced this by noting that the team was really thinking about increasing varieties and bringing in meals that they could not before to enhance the experience of consumers.
He continued by saying that the airline could have reacted faster to consumer feedback and brought back food items that were being requested such as bread rolls and appetisers.
From 1 June though, passengers can expect that all economy meals served on medium, long-haul and ultra long-haul flights will include an appetiser, together with a bread roll, the main course, cheese and crackers, and a dessert.
All economy class meals served on short-haul flights between 1.5 to 3.5 hours will also include a bread roll and butter, together with the main course, and a dessert.
Goh noted that a review done by the airline found that much of the appetisers served onboard were not consumed, contributing to food waste. Consumers also noted that they preferred more substantial main courses.
This was why appetisers were initially removed and a bigger plastic casserole dish was brought in. The new dishes increased the weight of the main course dishes by about 30% to better appeal to customers.
However, the new feedback is that passengers prefer to have an appetiser and a fuller tray to consume on flights.
He said that this was a learning point and they could have done something faster. He added that the airline is committed to innovating constantly and that any innovation carries the risk of not achieving the intended results.
When that happens, an airline must be willing to do what's right by the customers, he said before noting that the airline wants to continue to hear from its customers and to take their feedback into consideration while acting in a "decisive" manner.
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