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Cathay Pacific rethinks in-flight meals with on-demand catering trial

By Danny Lee | South China Morning Post | 11 March 2017
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Heightened competition in the aviation industry and the rise of on-demand app technologies have driven the city’s leading airline to rethink its dining services.

Cathay Pacific Airways has announced it will trial “dine-on-demand” on its long-haul flights, allowing travellers to elect when to eat.

Food catering has been a particular flashpoint for Cathay Pacific customers, who have openly criticised the quality and standard of meals in recent years.

“We are doing this in response,” chief executive Ivan Chu Kwok-leung explained. “We know what the customer wants. We don’t just want to satisfy what the customer wants, we want to lead.”

“In terms of what we are looking at: giving passengers more control, enhancing the customer service online and physically when they get on-board.”

The move is part of a much wider battle being fought over by the world’s top airlines to improve their business and economy class offerings.

Airlines across the world are constantly trying to outperform each other on service innovation and creativity. Leading the charge are the Gulf carriers, such as Emirates with its on-board bar and Qatar Airways with its “super” business class cabin.

Raymond Kollau, the founder of AirlineTrends, a publication tracking innovation across the aviation industry, said Cathay Pacific had to forge a path to make dine-on-demand work.

“Despite facing strong headwinds in its performance, Cathay has got to continue to invest in these kind of premium services in order to meet evolving passenger expectations,” Kollau said.

And with new app technologies giving consumers what they want when they want, Kollau said frequent fliers had been emboldened to demand the same level of service in the air.

“Consumers have become used to getting the things they want at a time they want – think Uber, Didi, Netflix, Deliveroo, Foodpanda – these kinds of on-demand services also shape their expectations towards inflight service,” he added.

Cathay Pacific’s new service will be trialled on Hong Kong to London and Hong Kong to Chicago routes in May and June respectively.

Separately, the airline is also considering introducing pre-ordering of inflight meals akin to a “book the cook” style of service seen on rival carrier Singapore Airlines. It is the first indication that more food choices will be offered to long-haul economy class passengers.

“What we are looking to do is create value for our customers… In turn, there’s no doubt that our customers will be willing to pay for better food,” Chu said.