Travel Trends: Airlines spending less on food in 2010, but are healthier options around the corner?

Given the harsh economic conditions in the airline industry and the hyper-competitive market, it’s not surprising to find that the top US airlines have cut back the average amount of money spent on passenger meals.

According to the US Government’s Department of Transportation, from a high of almost $6 per person in 1991, to an average cost of $3.58 per passenger in 2009, the costs per person for food expenses has decreased by roughly $2.60. (NOTE: the chart above shows a forecasted figure of only $3.07 per passenger in 2010 — which would be an all-time low.)

Of course, not all airlines are created equal. Some pay a little more per passenger for food, like Alaska Air, while others invest next to nothing (we’re looking at you, Southwest). However, while not all carriers are the same, they all face the same challenge – how to manage food and service costs while at the same time giving customers what they want.

In the last few years, some carriers have been actively trying to change their airline food service while others are touting a low cost, no-frills approach; this partially explains the wide divide among carriers and the periods where spending increases.

What’s next for airline food?
Gregg Rapp, from Menu Technologies, has over twenty-five years of experience working with Casinos, the Cruise Ship Industry, and various restaurants. Rapp says:

How we present menus and healthy foods to kids from a marketing perspective can influence how our kids perceive healthy foods. Many of the airlines list their menus in the sky magazine. They could do much with the descriptions and placement to make this more appealing to kids and adults, including using the web to create characters and branding for the value of eating healthy.

Rapp recommends reading Mindless Eating from Cornell University’s Dr. Brian Wansink as an excellent way to understand how we pick up our cues on what to eat. Wansink is a Stanford Ph.D. and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and has spent a lifetime studying hidden cues that determine how much and why people eat.

Vanessa Horwell, the Chief Visibility Officer at TravelInk’d, a PR and communications firm for the travel industry, tells us:

There are some huge developments taking place in airline food. In traditional airline foodservice, there is what is known as ‘junking’. This is the wasted food from the plane which actually costs more to dispose of than the cost of the meal itself and is a significant cost/overhead burden.

As carriers look ways to reduce costs, they are looking to technology for tighter controls on inventory, and targeting their offerings to what passengers actually want. Horwell continues:

Airlines are trying to deliver higher quality foods, and trying to shun the image of nondescript foods packaged in plastic containers. There is a lot of innovation through partnering with the restaurant industry and carriers teaming up with restaurant chains and chefs to “co-brand” their menus. This in turn has great appeal to a traveling public that is already familiar with a food or restaurant brand and can expect quality and consistency; an example is Air Canada where they serve Quiznos. It is a familiar brand and there is consistency across their network. Customers can now order their food vouchers directly in the booking path with their flight, and savvy airlines will be marketing their “celebrity chef” branded content at that time to encourage customers to book and order food ahead of time.

Airline food gets healthier, salads leading the way
Recently, Tom Douramakos, chief executive of GuestLogix, a company based in Toronto that makes the hand-held devices and software used by most North American carriers for in-flight sales, said carriers generated a net profit of only 5 or 10 cents on a $10 sale of in-flight food.

Douramakos’s Executive VP of Global Sales Brett Proud, tells Gadling, “Hand-held devices and software are making a huge difference with airline costs and customer service in the airline food industry.”

GuestLogix first started in 2006 by working with American Airlines. They used 3000 hand-held devices to use as a cash register on board, while also using the software behind the scenes to help the airlines provision the right products for each specific flight as a response to a changing trend. Since then, they have developed long term contracts with many of the domestic, European and Asian carriers.

Proud says, “About 8 or 9 years ago, services such as food, baggage, and even drinks were included in the price of a ticket, but in the last decade or so, the model has changed and the service package has become unbundled. Things like food, entertainment, and baggage are being billed separately.”

For the carriers that offer them, the top-selling item on board, is always some type of salad.

Those carriers in the top 10th of their service group are making roughly $.70 – .90 more per passenger

Currently, the Benchmarked Food product mix is about 42% fresh food items and 58% snacks, with a trend moving towards the healthier items.

By managing wastes and improving forecasting, airlines can afford to offer better quality, which is right in line with the feedback customers are giving them — they don’t want peanuts or cookies, they want a reasonably-priced healthy salad, a fresh sandwich or cheese and cracker platter.

Of the current GXI airlines, the top 10th Percentile Product Mix is 15% fresh food and 85% snacks.

The impetus to change can be seen in the last pie chart, indicating that of the 15% of the current top 10th percentile product mix, fresh food sales make up 85% of total revenues.

Today, globally, against all on-board revenues, junking costs are running 2% to 7%, making a great case for better provisioning, better in-flight cost management (where attendants can reduce prices later in the day to keep product moving), and offering the right mix of products, preferably pre-ordered that customers want.

This airline travel trend may show an increase in cost but also an increase in quality, service and more healthy options.

Data Sources:

CNN, Michelle Obama Obesity Campaign, 2/9/2010
In Flight Food Tries to be Tasty
Menu Technologies
Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Form 41 Financials

See more Travel Trends.

How to Stay Healthy on a Road Trip

Finding the willpower to eat healthy while traveling is hard enough when you have access to fresh markets and cooking utensils. It becomes even more of a challenge when you’re on a road trip, trapped in a car for hours on end, with nothing but fast food restaurants and greasy spoon diners for roadside dining options. But with a little planning, a little extra time, and a lot of self-control, you can eat healthy while on a road trip. Here are few tips.

Start your day off right.
Begin your day with a carbohydrate feast and you’ll be craving carbs again in a few hours. Put down the donut and instead, take the time to have a healthy breakfast at your hotel. Eat a good mix of whole grains and protein and you’ll ingest fewer calories while staying full later into the afternoon.

Get some exercise.
Spending eight hours or more being sedentary in the car means that your body may be burning a lot fewer calories than normal. Reduce your intake accordingly and try to get a nominal amount of exercise. Even if all you do is take a 15-minute walk in the morning and then do a few bonus laps every time you stop along your route, you’ll feel good having stretched your legs. Even better: plan your stops around scenic walks or hikes so you can do a little sightseeing while you get moving.Pack healthy snacks.
It’s easy and tempting to swing through the drive-thru or grab some chips from the gas station, but that won’t do your waistline any favors. Pack healthy snacks like almonds, granola or trail mix (choose low fat, low sodium, high fiber varieties), fruit and peanut butter, or power bars. Depending on the length of your drive, you can pack a cooler with items like string cheese sticks or hummus and pita. Just refill the ice each day at your hotel. And don’t forget to drink lots of water throughout the day and avoid coffee and soda.

Choose your meal stops wisely.
It’s harder to make healthy choices at a place where the daily special is a triple cheeseburger or a chicken-fried steak. If you can, take an hour to stop and have a proper meal once a day. Sit down, eat slowly, and follow the same healthy rules you normal use for eating out – choose grilled or broiled over fried, get dressings on the side, opt for tomato-based instead of creamy sauce. If you don’t feel like dining out, try to seek out a grocery store where you can pick up healthy prepared foods to go. Most Whole Foods locations have extensive salad bars and cut fruit available to go.

Going on a trip? Stop and get a flu shot at the airport

Luggage? Check. Passport? Check. Flu shot? If you’ve yet to get yours, you can take care of the task on the way to your next flight at clinics set up in several airports around the US.

Among the nearly 20 airports that will be offering flu shots beginning within the next few weeks are Atlanta, Boston Logan, O’Hare, Denver, Honolulu, LAX, JFK, and San Francisco. Costs range from $20 to $35, which is about what you’d pay at most clinics, unless your insurance covers it. Hours vary by location, but all are open from at least 8am to 4pm on weekdays. Currently, airport locations are only offering the regular seasonal flu vaccine. The H1N1 flu vaccine may be offered at these locations when it becomes available.

I’ll confess: I have never gotten a flu shot. I try my best to avoid being poked with a needle so the thought of actually requesting it seems counter-intuitive. I know I should get it though. 200,000 people were hospitalized for the flu last year, and travelers like myself who spend a lot of time breathing recycled air in the close quarters of planes may be at an increased risk. There’s also this little thing you may have heard of, called the H1N1 “swine” flu, which the CDC expects will reach pandemic proportions. It just makes sense to get the vaccine. And now getting a flu shot won’t even require a special trip to my doctor. I’m out of excuses. I may have to muster up some courage at the airport bar first, but it looks like my next vacation will start off with a flu shot.

Check out full details on airport clinic hours and costs here.

Gadling + BootsnAll – Picks of the Week (5.15.09)

Welcome back to Gadling’s weekly “Picks of the Week” feature, brought to you by our friends at travel website BootsnAll. How does it work? We input thousands of travel variables into the Gadling mainframe computer, and out comes five of the best and most interesting travel stories from BootsnAll this past week, ready for your reading pleasure. Got your 5.25″ floppy disk ready? Alright, here’s what we found:

  • The Venice of the… – Venice Italy is arguably one of Italy’s, if not the world’s, most popular tourism destinations. So popular in fact, that it’s spawned a fair share of “imitators.” As Roger Wade points out, pretty much any city that has a canal or waterway is laying claim to the nickname, including spots in Iraq, Russia and India. Check out his list of “Fake Venices Around the World.”
  • Life and Death in New Orleans – New Orleans is renowned for its spooky above-ground tombs, a feature of the city obviated by its elevation below sea level. Jessica Spiegel takes a photographic tour of New Orleans’ many atmospheric burial grounds. Don’t be afraid – the images are downright beautiful.
  • Drunken Culture – go on, admit it. You like to have an alcoholic beverage now and then. Lucy Corne is in on your secret – and knows how to help you make the most of it. She’s compiled a list of 10 places where you can drink and pretend like you’re soaking up all kinds of local culture. It’s OK…we promise to tell everyone that you went to Dublin to see the Book of Kells. No really, go see that too after you finish your Guinness.
  • Staying Healthy – when you’re out traveling, having fun and throwing caution to the wind, it’s suprisingly easy to forget to take care of your body like you might at home. Never fear, Eileen Smith has six cautionary reminders to make sure you spend your trip having fun and not in the hospital.
  • Thailand English – ever considered teaching English abroad? It can be a highly rewarding experience, but also one not without its challenges. Chabli Bravo spent the past seven months teaching English in Thailand and has a few suggestions to make the experience as good as possible. Even if you want to teach English elsewhere, it’s a post that’s certainly worth a look.

Well folks, looks like we’re out of room for this week. We’re just going to have to save all the other great links for next time around. Tune in again next Friday for more Gadling and BootsnAll Picks of the Week.

Aisle seat is healthier alternative

If you’re worried about blood clots, sit on the aisle. A recent study from Lahey Clinic Medical Center confirmed that getting bumped by the beverage cart can help keep deep-vein thrombosis away. The research team found that 75 percent of these cases occurred among non-aisle passengers, because they were not moving enough. Flights lasting between four and eight hours were worst.

It’s not just a matter of leg room. Window seats in business class led to the same results. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep yourself healthy. Put on compression stockings, and you’ll reduce the blood clot risk. If this is too cumbersome for you, try drinking plenty of water … and avoiding alcohol and caffeine (well, that might actually be harder).

Before you loosen your seatbelt and move freely throughout the cabin, just make sure the “fasten seatbelt” light is off and that you’re not blocking the meal service. Hungry, thirsty passengers can put your health at risk, too.


10 tips for smarter flying