a white airplane with blue screens

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?


Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I flew AA on a recent domestic flight because you can still get a full drink service in first. WN just started handing out water again, and I think UA and DL are just serving bottled beer and wine; not even sure about that. No alcohol yet on B6. I’m all about the experience, even more than getting to where I am going.

  2. Good points Gil. I have another question. If FA’s aren’t really doing anything service wise, then why are they on the plane? I would think to flight attendants would be more than enough for each flight you were on. Or maybe there was a limited crew and I’m off base?

  3. i dont understand- hot food is safer then cold wrapped in plastic food- the virus is destroyed by heat and leaves for > 5 days on hte plastic at room temperature. This is definitely cost cutting opportunity for hte airlines

  4. It is what it is. If you think it has value, buy it. If you don’t, then don’t.

    They are making daily choices on how to survive financially and you’re free to vote with your business. Quite simple to me. They’ve been transparent about it from where it sit.

    I won’t spend big bucks to fly in a premium cabin as long as planes are half full. Why?

  5. Because alcohol makes people disinhibited and therefore less likely to social distance, wash their hands, and adhere to other actions that help to limit the spread of Covid-19.

    Because people are more likely to request repeat servings of alcohol, which then increases the number of times they come into contact with others during a pandemic.

    Alcohol acts as a diuretic and increases trips to the loo, which then increases the number of opportunities for an asymptomatic carrier to leave the virus on the surfaces in there and pass them onto someone else.

    Alcohol increases the risk of various violent and medical scenarios that would require the crew to come into close contact with someone at a time when they deserve to social distance as much as anyone else.

    Airlines are following the science-based guidance of IATA and various public health bodies. Should they continue to do so once the pandemic is over, then yes they will be “taking the piss.”

    As a side note, you need a minimum number of crew onboard to operate the doors in an emergency and to manage a variety of other situations. They’re not just there to serve your cold beer.

  6. I live for the food and drink served on board, both because I like food and also because it helps to pass the time. Plus I like the interactions with the cabin crew too.

    There is no way I will be booking a business class ticket on an airline that does not give me a decent on board service. I will either fly economy or choose a different airline.

    This is not some knee jerk reaction from me, by the way. I’ve already given it a lot of thought and until I know that there is a decent on board service, that’s how it will be.

  7. @Lauren, interesting points. I have upcoming flight with KLM and did some research. They claim they do serve hot meals on flight over 9 hours. Mine will be 10. From my point of view they definitely taking the piss. And i am pissed (not the british term) off by this. Have the option to fly Delta and thanks to Gib i think i will re book again.

  8. I have no problem with folks flying right now. I understand that there may be a need to do so; and, I appreciate that as my livelihood depends on folks traveling to fields afar.

    For me, the journey is as important as the destination. I enjoy the inflight service even if it is not always the best. I enjoy having Bacardi and OJ when sitting in the metal or composite tube. I do fly up front mostly but do sit in cattle class too. I also gladly pay for the Bacardi back there too! Bring back the food and beverage service; that is when I’ll consider flying again.

  9. Most people seem to lack any comprehension that catering facilities are almost if not entire closed.

    In the Netherlands catering facilities have closed for safety reasons at the request of the government for protection of their staff as well customers.

    Airlines operating from Amsterdam have a very limited option

    Hence it’s not possible to provide food in lounges or on most flights. Lounge staff are generally not employees of airlines and have been laid off by their employers

    Turkish is only providing a bottle of water for buss class passengers on flights under 2 hours and packaged food in a bag for longer flights

    Looks like it will be like this for a while

  10. I forgot to add, certain airlines in Europe don’t charge for food including Air France and KLM. On BA its complimentary in buss class and marks and spencer for purchase in economy So it’s stupid for people to comment “ if you don’t provide it don’t charge for it “ , when it was complimentary in the first place

  11. Nice to hear from a flight attendant. I agree with safety first but if they’re gonna charge the same prices for premium seating, they’re gonna need to find a creative yet safe way to deliver a decent soft product. If not, the lower the price.
    P.S. I never order a cold beer on a flight. Too much bloating.

  12. I wonder if it is also reflective of reduced or completely suspended operations by the inflight catering companies. As many companies restart operations across Europe I would imagine the inflight caterers will also do so. Perhaps meals will restart at that point.

  13. I flew with American last week DFW – LHR – DFW in C class. Excellent service. Full Food and Beverage service including pre departure Champagne . And cabin crew done good job where the business class cabin was fairly busy . They served drinks even on my domestic flight ..

  14. HA, love the “pull no punches, matter of fact” title of this piece… brilliant 😉

    Keep up the sterling work Gilbert.

  15. I have a Swissair First Class booked London – Zurich – Delhi return for end September and a Qatar Airways Business Class return booked end November Stockholm – Doha – Bangkok.
    In both cases a key determinant, apart from price, was the opportunity to experience the offerings in both classes, including food, drink and amenities.
    I agree with you that some airlines are taking the p*** and using the resumption of limited flights to cut their costs.
    As a comparison, supermarkets (in the UK at least) quickly adapted as they had to remain open. And the only restrictions were because of temporary shortages. Alcohol, where the big profits are made, was not restricted.
    I sincerely hope that by September and November the airlines have worked out that they can offer a decent service without increasing the risk of transmission of the virus.

  16. Excellent article as always…. I also understand the need for the initial couple of paragraphs ‘pre-amble’ as there will always be those who wish to jump on you for daring to discuss service and product rather than safety at the present time. I am not one of them…..!! There is most definitely more than “…an element of “taking the piss” going on”. No surprise that British Airways is amongst them but that is to be expected from a not-so-premium airline. I value the “service and product” hugely when flying business class as the journey itself is an integral part of the “experience”. As we travel as a family if we go anywhere (4 of us), we can only afford to travel business class by paying for an economy/premium economy seat and then upgrading using points. This is also something I can only afford to do every two years or so once I have built up the points levels again. Travelling business class is an experience in itself (to those of us who do not fly business class on a regular basis) and so watering down the offering detracts from the experience. I certainly would be far less willing to part with my points for an experience equal to that in an economy/premium seat (other than the lie-flat bed).

  17. I agree with the sentiment here. To me this seems like a convenient thing to do save money. An ‘express’ style single tray can easily be done versus the back and forth. When taking an overnight flight I actually always ask for that so I can get to sleep quicker. Just tossing a couple of things into a bag and having zero premium beverages on board is simply cost saving.

    Lauren makes some interesting points I hadn’t thought of. Thanks for that! But walking past someone for a brief moment (to use the loo) can’t be any different than sitting next to someone for 8 or 9 hours. Even if someone goes back and forth to the loo I just can’t see where that would cause any increased risk over sitting in the same spot for 8 or 9 hours. If anything, people should be moving around during the flight for overall health reasons.

  18. Could there also be an element of a large proportion of people on the plane being too “nervous” to eat standard service meals (through their masks) meaning the loading a full compliment of meals would just be a waste (of money) for the airline as a lot of them would just end up being thrown away having not been consumed? I dunno…

    I can see the justification for airlines not wanting people to get “pished” onboard during this time.

    Now if it gets to this time next year and the situation is no better when I’m provisionally booked to fly First to the US west coast…. well then that WILL be outrageous…. 😉

  19. Keep writing more of these as it will be a good guide to which carriers I wont be flying.

  20. Thank you for the informative post. I have been saying this all along that the airlines will use COVID 19 as an excuse to cut Service. It really is silly to use the “safety “ excuse, unfortunately many people are buying into the airlines BS.

  21. I think if these airlines are not offering a full 1st class service you should be refunded your money back. They were desperate to get our custom back because they need our money . There is no regulated watchdog so they can take the piss. I am still waiting for a refund from a previous flight but keep getting fobbed off , that is from BA and now they are short changing first class passengers.

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