An immense amount of airplane food is wasted every day. Many airlines are trying to combat waste in order to reduce costs and reach their sustainability goals. For SWISS in Geneva, waste reduction equals customer and crew satisfaction.
SWISS is constantly working on improving planning and logistics around waste, and they have enlisted the help of technology to guarantee the success of this initiative. First off, they joined forces with Retail inMotion to alter the original technology solution and create a standalone product that would help them identify how many products should be loaded on planes in order to avoid waste.
The new system was not created by traditional programmers; instead, it was “built in the field” and reflects the work of various operations experts with IT knowledge, as data science is often considered a bridge between IT and operations. The system was created on the premise that it would be constantly improved, in accordance with the steps of Agile methodology, which would ultimately make it more efficient and effective.
What is special about the system Retail inMotion built for SWISS is that, in addition to analyzing past consumption data, it also includes crew feedback on missed consumption. The dynamic machine learning algorithm then predicts future loading for both Economy and Business class meals, thus enabling the airline to quickly respond to route changes, as well as modifications in customer behavior. The current data science algorithm considers multiple variables, such as flight hour in order to forecast demand and adapt the loading accordingly. Out of these prospective choices, new features are added to the system almost on a weekly basis, which help the airline better process and predict future loadings. SWISS is the first airline that loads Business class meals according to a data science algorithm.
The success of this solution depends on quite a few variables, one of them being crew feedback. Indeed, the faster their feedback is integrated into the algorithm, the better the solution can estimate the size of the load. Involving the crew has been beneficial in the sense that the crew’s tracking rate for both Business and Economy consumption and reporting of missed consumption is much higher than at other airlines. Therefore, one can conclude that, in addition to the ecological and financial aspects, an advanced waste reduction system can help increase employee satisfaction. In addition, the crew sees the shortcomings of the system firsthand so their input is essential in helping SWISS identify and deal with the bottlenecks.
Manuel Hübschmann, Retail inMotion's Retail Director for SWISS explains how the initiative came about:
“When we started the program, we received lots of insights about sustainability. Therefore, we knew that besides ecological and financial reasons, an advanced waste reduction system was also important to increase employee satisfaction.”
The easiest way to achieve waste reduction is by decreasing the number of products loaded on a plane, but there are many implications to this solution, including the fact that the number of choices for passengers instantly declines. For a premium airline like SWISS, there are at least two reasons why this quick fix is not the answer. First, passengers have certain expectations from what is available to them in terms of variety and assortment of products and second, the crew would have to decline passenger requests, thus reducing the premium hospitality experience. “We quickly realized that we needed a system that adapts to different flights and flight hours which would enable the crew to guide future loading, both in terms of sales, as well as missed sales opportunities,” Hübschmann noted. “As the crew was outspoken in their request for a better system, we included them right from the beginning and convinced them that their actions have a direct impact on future loading.”
Julia Amadio, Operations Manager at Retail inMotion for SWISS, manages the coordination of the recycling initiative; she analyzes and manually reviews all of the loadings on a daily basis, so she can quickly notice and correct any mistakes the system might make.
“This recycling initiative, as well as the reuse of ambient products, would not be possible without the close partnership we have with the airline and the bond which is managing the logistics behind it,” Amadio said. “Being able to count on professional expertise from multiple stakeholders has enabled us to identify the elements that require attention and improvements.”
As for the future, Hübschmann believes that reducing inflight waste will become standard practice; the question is simply when.
Inflight waste has multiple components, some of which are less visible to passengers. Waste due to over-catering and expired products is not as visible to passenger, hence it’s often neglected by airlines. But we are happy to have transformed that from an afterthought into a priority.
The costs related to waste have drastically reduced for SWISS since the initiative was set into motion.