Singapore Airlines has unveiled a new Economy Class meal concept that could be their most radical redesign of the dining experience at the back of the plane yet.
Gone are the traditional plastic casseroles, plastic cups and plastic-wrapped metal cutlery, replaced by a twin set of paper boxes and a cutlery pack made of bamboo with a paper wrap.
These new-look meals will debut from 1 December 2020 on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir flights under 3.5 hours, along with 40 new dishes including some that were previously not available in Economy Class.
I had a chance to try the new concept Economy Class meals at Inside Singapore Airlines, which I’ll talk about in a bit. First, let’s take a look at what exactly has changed.
Singapore Airlines new Economy Class meal concept
Try and remember the last Economy Class meal you had (it’s been a while, I know). It probably looked something like this.
Note the abundant use of plastic, from the utensil wrapper to the casseroles themselves, and relatively heavy items like glassware and metal cutlery. Not pictured are the plastic covers for the starter, as well as the aluminum foil you need to peel back from the main course and find some place to store (not the seat pocket, please).
Now here’s the redesigned version.
The first thing you’ll notice is the disappearance of the casseroles, replaced by a pair of paper boxes made from Forest Stewardship Council certified paper. While the box for the main course appears to be smaller than the traditional casserole, Singapore Airlines says it will still hold the same amount of food as before, just stacked deeper. The deeper design minimizes spillage and seepage, allowing for the introduction of gravy or soup heavy dishes (think congee, mee siam).
You’ll also note that metal cutlery and glassware have been replaced by bamboo cutlery and paper-based cups. This further helps with weight reduction, and every shed pound leads to valuable fuel savings.
Finally, note the absence of single-use plastics; it’s estimated the new design will reduce these by 80% by weight. Leftovers on the tray, including the new service ware, will be brought back to Singapore and converted into pellets that can be burned for energy.
These meals will be available from 1 December 2020 on flights to/from Singapore which are under 3.5 hours in duration, i.e the following:
|*Economy Class passengers do not receive a meal on flights to Kuala Lumpur|
Hands-on experience at Inside Singapore Airlines
I attended Inside Singapore Airlines yesterday (full report to come), where the new Economy Class meals were being served up at the cafeteria.
As an aside, the cost of food at the event was extremely reasonable. Each ticket comes with a free main course, and additional portions can be ordered at S$6.42 each. Desserts, including Mövenpick Ice Cream, cost just S$2.14, a glass of white wine cost S$3.21, while Evian and Perrier could be had at S$1.07! The only expensive item was the satay, at a relatively high cost of S$10.70 per half dozen.
I had two main courses, a glass of white wine, a bottle of Evian and some ice cream for the princely sum of just S$12.84.
Let’s talk first impressions. I know that the new boxes contain the same volume of food as before. But after a lifetime of seeing the traditional casserole dimensions, it’s hard to shake the feeling that your meal has gone on a diet.
Part of it could be because people are generally better at gauging length than depth, so it’s readily apparent when something is broad, but less so when it’s deep. Also, the smaller footprint of the meal box and reduction in service items gives the tray an uncluttered, minimalist look. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it tends to encourage people to focus on what’s not there, rather than what is.
When these meals make their debuts, there’ll no doubt be some disgruntled customers who think the airline is trying to go all Oliver Twist on them, pinching pennies by cutting their lunch size.
Second, it just doesn’t feel very premium. I know that Economy Class meals were never the pinnacle of luxury in the first place, but there’s something nice about the tactile feel of proper glassware, or the heft of metal cutlery. Moreover, the new containers remind you of takeout food, or perhaps those prepackaged snack boxes you get in coach on domestic USA/intra-Europe flights. I’m not sure how well this will sit with Singapore Airlines’ premium positioning.
Third, I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but there’s no more appetizer. To be fair, I hardly ever touched this, and according to SIA’s data, no one else did either. That token salad or assortment of cold cuts is now gone in favor of a main course + dessert service (if you love your salad, you’ll still get it on flights above 3.5 hours).
On to the food itself, and I must say the new meal boxes do an excellent job of keeping the food hot. Despite the fact the meals were heated offsite, brought to the cafeteria, then served without further reheating, the congee I ordered was almost too hot to eat straight away.
Obviously you’re not going to get nice plating like the publicity photos, where the chives are seductively scattered among a bed of perfectly crisp you tiao, with pork balls and slivers of century egg egg dotting the landscape. Or like what this influencer got:
But if you want nice plating, you’re in the wrong cabin. Economy Class prioritizes flavor over aesthetics, and at least the congee was delicious. It also passed the “shake test”- you could shake the container vigorously with nary a leak. The chicken with mac and cheese was awful though (bland chicken, mushy pasta), and having tried a few other items, my advice would be to stick to the Asian options- the fried rice and carrot cake in particular were worthy renditions.
I did notice that the opening of the new meal boxes is relatively small. These cramped conditions make it difficult to do the traditional “use fork to push food into spoon”, and I ended up just using the spoon most of the time and eating one handed.
It would have been awesome if the meal containers could have unfolded like a Chinese take-out box, providing easier access to the food within.
Speaking of cutlery, I did find it strange that the revised selection is now limited to a single fork and spoon, with no knife or chopsticks provided. No knife means you can expect your proteins to arrive already cut up, which is either a bug or feature depending on your preferences. It also means we’re unlikely to see full-sized chicken or fish fillets served going forward.
The omission of a chopsticks option is also a puzzling decision, especially since the compact size of the new meal box seems to encourage you to lift it off the tray and eat from it with chopsticks, rice bowl style. It’s probably a good thing that this new concept will only feature on short-haul routes, since I envision the lack of chopsticks being an issue on some China/Japan flights.
Now let’s talk about the spoon. While the new meal boxes allow Singapore Airlines to serve more gravy/soupy type dishes, the new spoon doesn’t seem designed with this in mind. As you see from the side profile shot below, it’s way too shallow to accommodate any decent volume, and here’s where a Chinese-style deep spoon would really have done the trick.
On the plus side, the meal generated much less waste than what I’m accustomed to on a plane, which can only be a good thing. Since real estate is already at a premium in an Economy Class seat, it’s a pain to have to find somewhere to stash the plastic covers from dessert and cutlery, and the aluminum foil from the main course.
I also understand the new meal containers will reduce the average serving time per customer, which means those seated at the back of the cabin should have more time to eat on a relatively short flight.
New Economy Class Menu
In case you’re curious, here’s the new Economy Class menu items you can expect from 1 December 2020; bold items are available to sample at the Inside Singapore Airlines event.
|New Economy Class Menu Items
Bold items available to sample at Inside Singapore Airlines
I spoke to a few people at the Inside Singapore Airlines event, and the reviews I got on the new meal concepts were mixed. On the one hand, they appreciated the sustainability aspect and how much waste was saved with the new design; on the other, most believed the meal portions had been downsized (they were surprised when I told them it was the same volume), and it lacked the premium feel they’d become accustomed to with Singapore Airlines.
For me personally, I’m fine with this approach if it’s just limited to short-haul flights. In an age where more and more airlines are doing away with hot food service on shorter trips, it’s commendable that Singapore Airlines still bothers to feed passengers wherever possible. That said, I do prefer the traditional set up on longer flights, because food becomes a more important distraction the longer the flight is.
What do you make of the new Economy Class meal concepts?