In December 2020, Singapore Airlines debuted a radical new Economy Class meal concept on its short-haul flights. Passengers on flights of 3.5 hours and below would receive meals in paper boxes with bamboo cutlery, instead of the traditional plastic casseroles, aluminium foil and plastic-wrapped metal cutlery.
This new concept has been in the wild for more than a year now, but it’s only recently with the surge of revenge travel that passengers are beginning to encounter it in earnest.
While Singapore Airlines has cited numerous environmental and practical benefits of the new meal concept, it was always bound to divide opinion. Indeed, there’s been numerous complaints regarding the boxes, with at least one going viral enough to warrant an official response.
But could we now be seeing a temporary return of the casseroles? I’ll get to that in a bit, but first, here’s what the storm in a meal tray is all about.
The boxes vs casseroles debate
Singapore Airlines’ new Economy Class meal concept can be found on all short-haul flights under 3.5 hours. At the time of writing, this includes the following destinations:
|✈️ Singapore Airlines Flights <3.5 hours|
|*Meals are not provided on flights to Kuala Lumpur. For flights to Penang, a packaged snack is served|
Singapore Airlines asserts that the new meal concept is superior for several reasons:
- Paper boxes allow the serving of 40 new menu items like congee or mee siam, which would not be possible with traditional casseroles
- Paper boxes retain heat longer, keeping food hot even for the last passengers to be served
- Paper boxes are made from Forest Stewardship Council certified paper, and together with bamboo cutlery cut the overall weight of meals by 50%, lowering fuel consumption
- Paper boxes can be converted into refuse-derived fuel, generating 60% less waste than before
While I don’t dispute any of that, let’s not pretend there aren’t cost savings for Singapore Airlines too. That doesn’t invalidate the entire exercise of course, but will invariably attract accusations of greenwashing.
The main problem, as I see it, is that the optics are bad. Singapore Airlines insists that the paper boxes hold the same quantity of food as before (because the increase in depth compensates for the loss in width), but since people are generally better at gauging width than depth, the first impression many have is that their meal has gone on a diet.
Then there’s the presentation. Dull brown boxes tend to remind one of takeout food, and bamboo cutlery cannot replace the tactile feel and heft of metal. It gives off a low cost carrier vibe, which is rather out of sync with Singapore Airlines’ premium positioning.
In terms of what’s under the hood, YMMV. When the meals debuted at the Inside Singapore Airlines event, notable lifestyle influencer Ong Ye Kung posted the following images:
It looks pretty decent actually, but not every single meal is going to be painstakingly plated for that Insta-perfect photo.
Sometimes the presentation is a lot more mundane…
…and other times, well, let’s just say it works better than any Jenny Craig diet.
Then there’s the user experience issues. The narrow box opening makes it difficult to do the traditional “use fork to push food into spoon”, and the bamboo spoon is too shallow for enjoying gravy or soupy dishes, the very reason why these boxes were designed in the first place.
For the record, I’ve had some delicious meals served in these boxes- congee and laksa are dishes for which the design excels. Moreover, I tend to fill up in the lounge, which makes short-haul meals relatively unimportant.
Economy Class laksa meal
That said, not every passenger has lounge access, and those with tight connections may well be relying on this as their primary source of sustenance. So the negative sentiment is certainly understandable, and I can’t help but wonder if some aesthetic tweaks to the packaging could go a long way towards addressing them.
Is the new concept being rolled back?
While Bangkok is well within the 3.5 hour radius, on a recent flight I was surprised to receive the following.
No prizes for spotting the difference- the traditional casseroles and metal cutlery have returned. I can’t say for certain whether that made tom yum vermicelli with prawns taste any better, but it was a blast of nostalgia, a throwback to pre-COVID meals.
Now, I doubt that Singapore Airlines would U-turn on a concept that has clearly been in the works for a long time. In all likelihood, it’s probably a supplier shortage that’s led them to switch back to the old-style setup. In any case, I’ve reached out to Singapore Airlines to get clarification, and will update this article if/when I hear back.
|💬 SIA’s Response|
Here’s a reply from an SIA spokesperson
If you’ve been on a recent <3.5 hour Economy Class flight, do weigh in: did you get the old style or new style meal?
Singapore Airlines’ new Economy Class meal concept is intriguing, but was always going to be a tough sell. I don’t doubt the environmental benefits, though passengers need to be convinced those haven’t come at the expense of quantity and quality.
If my recent experience is anything to go by, however, you might still get to enjoy the old-style meals on your upcoming flight.
Have you experienced the new Economy Class meals before? What do you think?