Let me start by saying that across all elements of life, nothing matters more than good health. I’d never want to jeopardize my own health, let alone the health of an innocent stranger. Having said that, airlines are flying, and in many parts of the world it’s absolutely not illegal to fly, and airlines are encouraging you to. Which brings me to the current world of airline service cuts, which would be easier described as “what service?”.

There are many, many more important issues going on in the world right now, and if you want to focus on those, please do. I absolutely am in other parts of my day, but that doesn’t mean these topics can’t also be discussed, for those interested in this state of affairs.

If you don’t want to be a part of the discussion, do navigate your way away from this page, rather than taking the time to point out that there are other causes and concerns, because everyone knows that there are other causes and concerns which must be dealt with, they just probably won’t take place on a travel blog.

Airlines Are Hit And Miss Right Now

I flew four segments with KLM this last week, two in European business class and two in World business class. On four flights, I had one encounter with a crew member the entire time, which was a brief request for a bottle of water, after the lone bottle left at my seat before takeoff was consumed. No alcohol was catered in any cabin, and there was no hot meal option of any kind.

I point this out not necessarily because it bothered me (I rarely eat or drink on planes), but because many people seemed fascinated by my account of what’s currently offered, particularly knowing that other airlines are offering nearly full service, albeit with modified plating.

The more it was pointed out, the more I began to realize that there is an element of “taking the piss” going on, because many measures seem less about health concerns and more about cost. I’m all for minimizing contact, but that doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating amenities, and perks of premium seats.

Handing someone a bottle of water is no different than handing them a can of beer, or half bottle of wine. There’s absolutely an element of cost cutting afoot, and if airlines wish to rebound as travel restrictions ease globally in the next few months, they’ll need to find a new hook to draw discretionary travelers in. For many, it seems a big seat that folds into a bed isn’t enough to justify the expense.

British Airways, for example, isn’t even offering booze or a hot meal in first class, let alone business or premium. It’s a snack box at your seat and all the tea or water you can drink. Apparently the airline is slowly bringing back options like pizza, but that’s not guaranteed by any means. Obviously, KLM was the same. I’m sure many wouldn’t mind trading in the champagne flute for a recycled paper cup, but definitely do mind the entire removal of service, hot meals and premium beverages.

Know this: most airlines have moved to a “one tray” service, which means you get your starter, main and dessert on one tray, at one time. This is a smart move to minimize contact between crew and passengers, but also one that maintains some level of premium and luxury for passengers who’ve paid for it.

Qatar Airways, Delta, Etihad and American Airlines are among many airlines offering well modified premium elements of service, or something similar in international business class. I’d say it’s all about the seat/bed and associated extra space for social distancing in travel in the immediate term, but if airlines want to recover, they’ll need to convince passengers the experience is still justified and the KLM/British Airways approach is perhaps a step too far.

Even among transatlantic joint venture partners – aka airlines which usually try to streamline offerings to keep customers happy – I was shocked to see the difference in offering between KLM and Delta this week.

On my KLM flights I received a clear plastic bag with some snacks and a singular sandwich for a 7.5 hour flight, as well as two diet cokes and a water. No alcohol was catered on board of any kind, in any cabin. Not even a Heineken. In KLM’s Crown Lounge in Amsterdam, there were no food or beverage offerings at all, outside of water and hot water for tea, which were help yourself.

Delta, however, still offers a hot meal, selection of alcoholic drinks and other service elements in business class, as well keeping their key Sky Club lounges open with waiter service for wine and drinks. Notably, every member of staff was correctly wearing PPE gear and trays, surfaces etc were regularly being disinfected.

Does It Matter To You?

For many travelers, flying business or first class is almost as exciting as where you’re going. It’s not at all uncool or uncommon to do research on what’s served, reading trip reports showcasing the wine offerings, typical meals and even silverware. It’s fun, and fun is good.

With such heavily modified service, which in many cases means no lounges prior to flight, and hardly any, if any interaction with crew members, it’s just not the same. There’s nothing more important than good health, but it does indeed feel like airlines are using the health crisis to cut costs on things passengers value, and if they don’t find a middle ground, it may cost them more than a few beers.

Is your interest in booking a future airline ticket impacted by service cuts?

 

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