The road to Onboard Delights: What it takes to achieve operational excellence in a pandemic environment

Lufthansa’s new catering concept, developed in collaboration with Retail inMotion, is now available to Economy Class passengers on short- and medium-haul flights. Starting May 26th, passengers will be able to purchase fresh, regional, and high-quality food and beverage products within the context of Onboard Delights.

We talked to Manuel Hübschmann, Retail Director at Retail inMotion, and Ole Jansen, Manager Business Implementation, about the challenges and opportunities of implementing such a complex project virtually, how they managed to avoid operational bottlenecks, and how technology helped operations run smoothly and efficiently.

 

A complex project like a new catering concept requires a lot of preparation from an operational perspective. How did you support and implement all the operational processes to ensure that all goes according to plan?

The first step is to ensure that all the parties involved have both the skills and the expertise, and that they are willing to collaborate. Looking back, the reason why our blended team worked so well is that everyone had the same understanding of the processes and procedures, extensive experience and knowledge and, more importantly, they worked toward the same goal, namely to support Lufthansa on their path to a completely new catering concept.

Another important aspect is to consult with all the stakeholders, whenever decisions had to be made, no matter how big or small — we have always believed that including crew members would lead to better results and, ultimately, project success.

Whenever we take up a new project, we make sure the airline’s identity is front and centre, and that’s what we did now, too.

Did the pandemic make things more challenging?

The fact that most of the tasks were performed virtually and that we couldn’t have face-to-face meetings was a hurdle, but we realized that we don’t need to travel any more in order to solve various issues.

Being on-site and connecting with the warehouse is something that should always be done in person so even though our time at the physical location was short, thanks to a lot of virtual preparation, we could focus on the relevant areas right away.

Building trust through video conferences and taking time to connect with each other is essential to business success, especially when different teams, departments, and companies work together. The pandemic made all this harder but when everyone is working toward the same goal, the project will be successful.

The fact that we do not need to be on the ground all the time means that going forward, we can travel less and still be efficient.

How was the experience of working virtually?

Implementation has always been done on the ground, so the fact that we managed to successfully implement such a complex project virtually has been a huge revelation. For this project, Ole only had to fly to the location four times, while before, he would have had to fly there almost every week, and often even on very short notice.

The fact that we do not need to be on the ground all the time means that going forward, we can travel less and still be efficient. Apart from the operational go-live, which, of course, must be done on the ground, everything else can be done virtually.

Now that it has become clear that we do have options, people with expertise and experience in the domain who could not travel as much before have the chance to get more involved in this area.

This was the experience of a lifetime, as Lufthansa is a massive, established airline, so everything that we implemented had to be meticulously thought through, especially since the scale is huge.

What were the strategic goals within the operational workstream, and how did you turn them into a successful project?

Since Lufthansa has hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, it was essential to have a standardized loading concept, which consists of a similar packing plan structure on all aircraft and hubs, similar drawers in sales and backup cart for easy replacement, plus two-leg catering for all flights. We also had standardized supporting processes regarding all aircraft changes and bulk packing — thanks to Retail inMotion’s various past implementations, we already had the required toolkit that allowed us to tailor the processes to Lufthansa’s needs.

This was the experience of a lifetime, as Lufthansa is a massive, established airline, so everything that we implemented had to be meticulously thought through, especially since the scale is huge. If something didn’t work, everything had to be redone in order to avoid operations bottlenecks later on. Everything had to be perfect from the get-go.

We reaped the benefits when we did the ground tests, which showed that no major changes had to be made. Crew processes had to be adjusted to become more efficient but, other than that, there were just small adjustments that inevitably happen when implementing such a complex project.

The fact that we managed to do this during a pandemic is very much thanks to technology. For example, instead of having to estimate initial loadings manually, we have our Vector Loading Planner System (vLPS), which processes thousands of consumption and missed consumption data from different airlines to predict future consumption and fight onboard waste.

The successful implementation of this project just goes to show that technology can help us do a better job by taking over different roles in order to allow us to focus on the aspects that are more sensitive and that cannot or should not be automated. Technology has changed the way we live so why not change the way we work?