Hands-on: Singapore Airlines’ radical new Economy Class meal concept

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Singapore Airlines is planning a major shake up of the dining experience in short-haul Economy Class. Here's what passengers can expect from December.

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. 

New Singapore Airlines Economy Class meal concept
New Singapore Airlines Economy Class meal concept | Photo: Singapore Airlines

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. 

Singapore Airlines current Economy Class meal | Photo: Matthew Klint

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.

Singapore Airlines new Economy Class meal | Photo: Singapore Airlines

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You’ll also note that metal cutlery and glassware have been replaced by bamboo cutlery and paper-based cups.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:

  • Bangkok
  • Brunei
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Jakarta
  • Manila
  • Surabaya
*Economy Class passengers do not receive a meal on flights to Kuala Lumpur

Hands-on experience at Inside Singapore Airlines

Inside SIA cafeteria
Inside SIA cafeteria

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. 

Click to enlarge

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. 

My Economy Class lunch at Inside SIA

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.

Economy Class meal box | Photo: CT

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. 

LHS: Chicken with Mac and Cheese, RHS: Congee with Pork Ball and Century Egg

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. 

(Left to right): Salted fish fried rice with chicken, mee siam, fried carrot cake with prawn

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.

Meal box opening size

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. 

New cutlery set | Photo: Fave

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. 

New spoon side profile | Photo: Fave

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
Breakfast
  • Congee with Pork Ball and Century Egg
  • Mee Siam
  • Fried Carrot Cake with Prawn
  • Nasi Lemak with Chicken
  • Chicken Congee
  • Scrambled Egg with Sauté Spinach and Potato, Herb Tomato Sauce
  • Scrambled Egg, Shashouka Spiced Tomato Sauce, and Chicken Chipolata
  • Pear Cinnamon Steel Cut Oat Porridge
  • Vegetable Frittata, Mushroom, Baked Bean Ragout with Bacon
  • Tomato Upma and Sambar
Soups
  • Beef Barley Soup
  • Beef Goulash
  • Chicken, Leek and Potato Soup
  • Smoked Lentil with Chorizo Soup
  • White Bean with Smoked Duck Soup
Lunch/Dinner
  • Chicken Bolognaise
  • Alfredo Pasta
  • BBQ Chicken on Potato Cubes with Roasted Carrot and Beans
  • Penne Pasta with Tomato and Basil Sauce
  • Penne Samfaina Catalan Pisto
  • Lamb Albondigas
  • Chicken Ala King and Cheese Mash with Roasted Pumpkin
  • Braised Beef and Mushroom Ragout with Mash Potato
  • Braised Beef with Dupay Lentils, Porridge Polenta, and Parmesan
  • Beef Bourguignon
  • Salted Fish Fried Rice with Chicken
  • Sliced Pork with Ginger and Fried Rice
  • Beef Brisket with Egg Noodles
  • Thai Green Curry Chicken with Steamed Rice
  • Laksa Goreng
  • Thai Yellow Curried Fish with Steamed Rice
  • Chicken Curry with Rice
  • Dry Mee Siam
  • Laksa
  • Chicken Biryani
  • Tom Yum Bee Hoon with Cabbage, Carrot, Thai Chilli
  • Japanese Chicken Curry with Rice 
Dessert
  • Pulut Hitam Cake
  • Ondeh Ondeh Cake
  • Banana Sugee Cake
  • Coffee Milk Jelly
  • Raspberry Cream Cake
  • Chocolate Fudge Cake
  • Earl Grey Chiffon Cake
  • Coffee Mousse with Pecan Crumble and Pear Compote
  • Chocolate Mousse with Brownie Crumble and Salted Caramel Sauce
  • Banana Chocolate Chip Cake
  • Coffee Bavarian Cream

Conclusion

Congee and Pulut Hitam |Photo: 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?

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion with the intention of helping people travel better for less and impressing chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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ZYX

No matter what the PR says, it’s always about cost cutting. It seems more like lowering the service standard of SQ short haul to that of MI because of the merger.

Cindy

I op for carrot cake yesterday, taste a bit salty but still tasty. I’m totally fine with this new concept to reduce the waste.

Herman

They could have gone with a better design meal box. SQ considers themself as a premium airline but this does not looks premium. I applaud them for the “saving the earth” thingy but a lot more thoughts could have put into the design and presentation of the meal box. Compare that to British Airways meal box and you know what I mean.

Herman

Totally agree on that it should be design forward. Can’t imagine how this drap looking brown box could have been approved by so many people in the management. To shortchanged the customer by removing the starter is also not a sound move. I deeply love SQ but for them to hide behind Covid and try to be sneaky about it and yet charged premium price, that’s a no no. Classic example was not serving champagne in business. One feedback from customer and they resumed it.

meng yeow

Do the utensils have a wood taste? I like the sustainability aspect but sometimes these wood utensils leave a different taste in your mouth and affects the meal, and the spoon indeed isn’t made for soups in mind. While I was reading the article, I thought “wow yeah this economy class meals are going to look cheap where passengers are made to eat out of chinese take-out boxes”, but your conclusion really reminded me of the larger picture. In a world where hot food service is being removed by other airlines, it’s very very assuring that Singapore Airlines is still… Read more »

meng yeow

That’s good to know! looking forward for more good news for aviation

Ah gu

As long as got hot towel :X

Dennis

Hallelujah! Weight savings using biodegradable stuff instead of single use plastic. Win-win.

Part of me feels like anyone who was so emotionally invested in the components of a short haul economy meal to the extent that they will feel short changed by any of this could consider taking this break as a chance to reassess priorities.

JW19

Felt that they should up the size of the mains similar to what Etihad did when they eliminated the rest of the other elements, the box could be deeper and contain more. No qualms about the presentation though, it compliments the whole green movement initiative thing to a tee.

Ali

I don’t usually care for the salad and cold cuts so I’m happy for them to be removed… but the little piece of bread is a life-saver when the main course is not to my liking. Guess I’ll have to bring my own bread in future then.

Maybe they got the brown packaging inspiration from paper bags and cup sleeves from Starbucks.

chk

I got the bun with my meal with Y flights to BKK (in 2019). I think Y flights to CGK don’t have.

I always put my bun and butter on the hot meal foil to warm bun/ melt the butter a bit. It helps.

Ali

Now that you ask, I cannot remember which flights had bread even though I don’t fly that often so I’ll assume chk’s info is more accurate. I usually get served in the middle or towards the end, and i eat it after the main dish, so all that waiting might have thawed the bread a bit too. Maybe you are too used to business class bread standards. 🙂

David

Sustainability is bullshit. This is all for cutting cost.

Sean

Those bamboo utensils are useless, I wonder if special meals are also packaged like this. For these short-hauls, I generally just buy a subway from the terminal.

M N

I guess it’s a matter of perspective and aesthetics. I actually feel the new design looks more premium than the previous designs. The simple minimalist boxes looks like food from an upmarket cafe brunch or brunch place, vs the plastic covers and the foil covered mains looks like cafeteria food.

Andrew

They’re going to have a number of issues with this: 1. Bamboo utensils will break easily, hate cafes that do this. 2. The meals in general are unhealthy, high in salt, deep fried. 3. Missing salad, people will not be able to get nutrients they need and instead get sugar from dessert. 4. Bamboo is not sustainable, this is a misconception. It requires substantial amounts of water and energy to produce. Metal utensils just need a lot less water when they are cleaned. Clearly cost cutting so they don’t need to wash. 5. The plastic linings inside the containers to… Read more »

Tai

All great points, thanks for your comment!

Falco

SQ delivers – the latest concepts and always the right balance of service and quality. Love it! Can’t wait for my next flight on SQ. Just got back on my last one on a certain North East Asian carrier earlier today and while I love the incredible investment they’ve made even into the Economy food (cuisine is really the right word here), the balance just seems to be slightly off in other areas, especially compared to SQ.

Lian

Hi SQ,

We wanna our fresh salad and fruit slices, back!!

Your new food menu seem to promote carbo, fried food, high cholesterol dishes ….. dont need a genius to know why many people including fellow S’poreans are suffering fm diabetes and bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL)!

Please restore and promote good healthy food (eg. salad, fresh fruits & etc).

Thank you!

Last edited 3 days ago by Lian
Tai

Fully agree!

Particularly in Covid times (diabetes is a major risk factor) it is unbelievable SQ comes up with this garbage food.

Ewan

Guys, think again. Our earth is critically ill with pollution and all the waste materials are simply dumped everywhere. It is not about cost cutting..this is about how we move to a better world in the future. As you know..Singapore Airlines is World’s Best Airlines and of course they have alot of customer. More customers means more waste. So let’s just support them to give us the best inflight services in the future.

John

Plastic waste can be burnt. Sustainability is bullshit.

Sinoda

Rt

Last edited 3 days ago by Sinoda
Almerick

Are they saying that making and throwing away bamboo spoon and fork produces less waste and emissions than carting metal cutlery and just washing them?

Ong Zhong Liang

Any chance of there being excess casserole dishes or other economy SQ-branded tableware that now need a new home?

Melwu

I just felt that the design of the meals box’s were not so good .first thing is it is very toxic to put hot food into a plastic container cause the hot food will have contacted with the plastic container that may have a high risk off having cancer if it is being consumed by the people on board the airplane

Tai

Great point!

Virtue signaling at its worst

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