COVID-19 redefines inflight experience: Airlines abandon complimentary catering in favour of onboard retail

It’s been almost a year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and, consequently, since the airline industry has had to fight for its survival. These challenging times have demonstrated that necessity breeds innovation and the pandemic has pushed this sector to adapt its business and find new concepts not only to generate further revenues but also to better meet passengers’ changing needs and demands.

Although the pandemic has changed air travel as we know it, rebuilding the industry will only be possible by implementing measures that promote a safe environment for all parties involved. That said, we strongly believe that social distancing will greatly influence the in-flight service offer and processes.

More and more airlines are introducing Buy-on-Board concepts as they transition from traditional catering to onboard retail, so we expect to see more innovative concepts boosted by digital technology.

Onboard retail paves the way for passenger centricity

Opting for an onboard retail offer gives airlines room for growth in various aspects such as passenger satisfaction, brand alignment, and reduced costs.

By offering passengers a broader selection of products and brands they already trust, airlines have the opportunity to build best-in-class passenger experience. In addition to greater choice, high quality and trusted brands, passengers want the onboard offer to mirror their expectations by zooming in on the details that make the difference, such as sustainability and individualization. Retail inMotion relies on storytelling to ensure that passengers have access not just to the product information, but also the journey from idea to product and why they should be purchasing those items.

It is common knowledge that customers nowadays prefer to buy from companies that are aligned with their values, and the relationship between an airline and its passengers is no different. More and more passengers expect carriers to deliver an individualised experience and they are more willing to pay extra for greater convenience and, overall, an innovative passenger experience.

By investing in a retail program, airlines give passengers access to an exclusive product offering through pre- and in-flight ordering, which ensures passenger loyalty and allows their brand personality to shine through.

COVID-19 is accelerating the rise of digital solutions

The recovery plan for the airline industry will undoubtedly include technology investments, which will pay off in the COVID-19 battle and beyond. Technological innovations are instrumental in ensuring passengers can continue to experience the necessities and luxuries of the inflight experience while facilitating social distancing requirements to protect them at all stages throughout the journey.

Digital solutions such as pre-order, cash-free payment, contactless technology, digital receipts, as well as digitally animated menus are only a few measures we are taking to safeguard the passenger experience throughout the journey.

Some of the changes brought about by the pandemic are overdue and Buy-on-Board concepts, which prioritise quality and choice, are here to stay. Abandoning complimentary catering is not only about cutting costs but also about meeting passengers’ expectations and dietary needs, as well as supporting waste reduction and providing a better quality of service.