Singapore Airlines shelves plans for paper-based serviceware

SIA has decided not to proceed with its new paper-based Premium Economy/Economy serviceware for now, following a trial in March 2023.

Singapore Airlines rather broke the internet back in February when they announced a trial of paper-based serviceware in Premium Economy and Economy Class. Selected medium and long-haul flights received meals in disposable boxes made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper, which the airline claimed would improve the quality and variety of onboard meal service. 

“(The new serviceware) retains heat and moisture better than the current casserole dish, helping to enhance the taste and texture of our main courses.

The unique design also now allows us to offer soupy and gravy-rich dishes that were previously not available in Premium Economy Class and Economy Class on medium- and long-haul flights. This includes highly popular Singapore local favourites such as mee siam, laksa, and congee, which were previously only on offer on our regional flights.”

-Singapore Airlines

There was a, shall we say, spirited response to this news. Depending on who you asked, this was either a forward-thinking step towards sustainability, or the latest in a series of cutbacks that brought the airline ever closer to Scoot (it should be noted, however, that the paper-based serviceware did cost more than the disposable plastic casseroles it replaced).

In any case, we now have a decision: Singapore Airlines will not be proceeding with the paper-based serviceware for now. 

Singapore Airlines will not proceed with paper-based serviceware

Singapore Airlines paper-based serviceware

Singapore Airlines’ paper-based serviceware trial ran from 1-25 March 2023 on flights to the following destinations:

✈️ Trial Destinations
  • Delhi (SQ406)
  • Dubai (SQ494)
  • Frankfurt (SQ26 & SQ326)
  • Hong Kong (SQ882 & SQ883)*
  • London (SQ306 & SQ308)
  • Melbourne (SQ237)
  • Mumbai (SQ424)
  • Perth (SQ223)
  • San Francisco (SQ23 & SQ34)
  • Seoul (SQ606)
  • Sydney (SQ211 & SQ221)
  • Tokyo-Haneda (SQ634)
*Trial commenced 16 February 2023

As part of the trial, customers were served meals in a rectangular container with a decorative lid bearing the airlines’ distinctive colours (the flower pattern is inspired by Dianella Ensifolia, one of the flowers in SIA batik motif). The heat-resistant plastic cup was also substituted with a paper-based version. Metal cutlery was maintained; there was no switch to the bamboo version used on short-haul flights. 

Photo: Singapore Airlines

It’s been two months since the trial concluded, so I reached out to Singapore Airlines to get an update on the status. A spokesperson provided the following response:

💬 Singapore Airlines statement
  • Singapore Airlines (SIA) conducted a trial of our new Economy Class serviceware on a small number of medium- and long-haul flights in March 2023.
  • The trial was part of SIA’s continuous efforts to enhance the in-flight experience on medium and long-haul flights by offering more main course options which our customers frequently ask for, such as gravy-rich dishes like laksa, mee siam, and congee.
  • The design of the serviceware is also better at retaining heat and moisture than the casserole dish, helping to enhance the taste and quality of our main courses.
  • We can also confirm that the new serviceware that was on trial costs more than the current disposable plastic casserole dish.
  • Based on the feedback collected after these flights, a majority of our customers who tried the dishes in the new serviceware enjoyed the taste and variety of the food served.
  • Some of them have shared their feedback regarding the serviceware, as have members of the public. We have taken that on board.
  • We have also received the operational feedback on the trial, and noted that we may need to improve the design of the box.
  • Taking all of these into account, we have decided not to proceed with this new serviceware for now.  
  • SIA remains committed to constantly innovating with the aim of enhancing the in-flight dining experience, and to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers.

So there you have it: customers enjoyed the taste and variety of the food served, but there were operational considerations including box design. As such, Singapore Airlines has decided not to proceed with the new paper-based serviceware for now.

I’m certain people will jump on the “for now” qualifier, but the way I see it, this is probably a “never say never” thing. SIA is unlikely to use the kind of definitive language that rules things out forever (“we vow never to use paper!”), since who knows what will happen in the future? 

For what it’s worth, I never encountered one of these in the wild, but I did see a photo shared by MileLion community member Joon of a laksa that looked pretty decent. I also liked that the lid could be completely removed, unlike the short-haul meal box where it tends to get in the way. If you ask me, this should actually be the meal container used for short-haul flights, since it’d work better for things like a full English breakfast (which doesn’t hold up well when stacked into a box).

Laksa on SIA | Photo: Joon

I’m on the record of being no big fan of paper boxes, but some in the comments pointed out that it didn’t really matter to them so long as what’s inside stood up to tasting. That’s fair enough, but I would still draw the line at Premium Economy.

The way I see it, the Premium Economy needs to be more than just a slightly more spacious seat- there needs to be a soft product to match. And while Singapore Airlines gets quite a few things right with champagne and a choice of Book the Cook meals, the presentation of meals could be better. In fact, with the reintroduction of appetisers and cheese & crackers in Economy, the Premium Economy meal tray will soon look very much the same as Economy!

Singapore Airlines Premium Economy meal served from NRT-SIN

So this is an area I’d love to see some enhancements, especially given what the competition has to offer. 

Emirates Premium Economy meal | Photo: The Points Guy
Air New Zealand Premium Economy meal | Photo: The Points Guy

Lastly, to avoid confusion, this doesn’t mean the end of paper boxes. Singapore Airlines will be sticking to the brown square box used served in Economy Class on short-haul flights (below 3.5 hours). 

Short-haul Economy meal
Short-haul Economy meal

Conclusion

Singapore Airlines will not be proceeding with its paper-based serviceware for now, following a three week trial in March. Meals will continue to be served in the current disposable black casseroles, which have been used since April 2020 (and prior to that, meals were served in reusable white melamine containers). 

Did you manage to try the paper-based serviceware during the trial? What did you think?

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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