Airport Dining in 2021: What’s New?

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Airport dining is one of the things you look forward to the most before your flights. Though cabin meals are hardly Instagram-able, the fact that they usually give you a taste of your destination’s cuisine gets your thrill running high. Plus, the restaurants in airports, from the casual ones to the fine dining premises, tend to calm your nerves amid the hectic pace of traveling.

But that was before COVID-19. Now, after the worldwide travel bans and strict health protocols, airport dining may never be the same again, at least for a while.

Other than multiple disinfection and health check processes, airport and in-flight meals also reflected the shift in the whole travel and hospitality industry. Your meals may still be as tasty and served just as hot, but the practices in preparing them aren’t the same anymore. That said, here are the things you can expect from airport dining on your 2021 flight:

1. Sustainability and Ethical Food Options

Diets boomed during the pandemic. Many people grew more health-conscious and thus inspired to change their diets while in lockdown. And with a cleaner diet always comes sustainable and ethical food options.

As such, many airlines also turned to local producers for their in-flight meals. This change allowed passengers to see the solutions to their food-related queries right in front of them. They may even see information regarding their meal sources on the food’s packaging.

2. More Transparency on Food Preparation

food preparation

Considering the speed at which the COVID-19 virus can spread, it’s only normal for flight passengers to demand transparency from dining establishments and cabin kitchens. So restaurant and cabin crews demonstrated their compliance to health protocols. They wore masks and gloves at all times, practiced social distancing, and disinfected the things and surfaces that are frequently touched. But since those practices may still not be enough to ease passengers’ apprehension, an airline also used a robot for producing meals for its economy class.

3. More Reliance on Technology for Serving Passengers

Now that we’ve mentioned using a robot, other airlines and airports also increased their reliance on technology since the pandemic. Restaurants in the Changi Airport are among the best places to dine in the world, and they continue to live up to their reputation, as expected. Changi Airport Group (CAG) itself launched the new Safe Travel Concierge (STC), an online concierge service that lets passengers handle all their travel requirements without in-person contact with any airport personnel. The airport’s lounges, meanwhile, have been opened up for people working remotely, so digital nomads can use the space and rest assured that they’d stay healthy and safe.

Singapore Airlines got creative, too. On October 24 and 25 last year, they opened “Restaurant A380 @Changi”, a pop-up restaurant inside a parked Airbus A380. Customers can reserve seats via the airline’s website, and choose their meals on board, just as they would during a normal flight. The menu includes Peranakan dishes prepared by renowned Singaporean chef Shermay Lee.

4. New Strategies for Food Delivery

In LSG Group’s annual report on food trends for 2020, the “digital food trend” section covered the rise in the demand for food delivery services, which affected airports as well. As such, LSG saw a new emphasis on “Click and Collect”, and the increase of ghost kitchens around the world.

Click and Collect is basically the digital ordering of meals. They reduce touchpoints for both passengers and crews so that dining can be safer and more convenient for both parties. So if you’re scheduled for a flight anytime this year, you may encounter Click and Collect style ordering in the airport or in the cabin.

5. Healthier Meals

salad bar

While airport and airline meals are generally healthy, they’ve been packed with more essential nutrients now, considering people’s increased regard for their health. As the mindfulness trend grew during the pandemic, the interest in products that are rich in vitamins, nutrients, and other immune-system-boosting properties also grew. But still, people continued to seek solace from their comfort food. So the usual favorites in airport and airline restaurant menus will still be there.

6. Possible Increase in Waste Disposal Problems

The LSG report also noted COVID-19’s impact on airports’ and airlines’ sustainability efforts. Unfortunately, the pandemic has dampened what had been a strong drive for sustainability, since people demanded packaged food for safety reasons. But on the brighter side, certain in-flight catering services came up with solutions. One of them is Emirates, which claimed to use artificial intelligence to reduce food waste by 35%.

However, the problem with single-use plastic and recycling remains. So long as people continue to demand a safer dining experience, airlines and airports won’t be likely to ban single-use plastics, driving them unable to recycle.

Considering the ups and downs in airport dining today, the duty to bring things back to normal now falls on us. Let’s keep following health protocols and get vaccinated as soon as we can. The faster the world gets rid of COVID-19, the more awesome airport and cabin dining will become.

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