While not everyone is thrilled with the prospect of skipping meals on board, a few airlines, including Delta and Japan Airlines, are offering customers the option to decline an inflight meal.
1. Skipping meals
In the US, the “skip meal” option is only currently available to some passengers flying in Delta’s business class Delta One cabin. According to a representative from Delta, since the program started last year, about 1,000-1,500 meals are voluntarily declined each month, meaning that only 0.3% of eligible passengers are opting out. Regardless, this new airline practice could be a test case to assess potential ways to reduce fuel, costs and waste on board.
“I skip meals no matter how I fly,” said Gilbert Ott, who wrote about his experience on his blog, God Save the Points.
The idea of eating at midnight throws off your whole next day, and I think there’s credible science that it hurts your ability to recover from jet lag.Gilbert Ott, author on God Save the Points
For airlines not offering the option to skip a meal, there are questions about what to do with uneaten food. What happens to uneaten airline food? Some airlines allow flight attendants to eat untouched business or first class meals. However, the majority of the time, they are either incinerated or dumped in a landfill.
2. Customer data
The option to skip meals isn’t just about being eco-friendly but also about personalization, according to airlines. “We’re always looking for ways to better serve our customers and create a more personalized onboard experience,” a rep from Delta told CNN
Offering inflight meals is also an opportunity for airlines to gather more customer data and potentially better optimize catering options.
In recent years, many airlines have made changes to their inflight meal offerings, including offering more options for special dietary requirements such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and halal meals. Some airlines also allow passengers to pre-order their meals online before the flight.
Claims of “greenwashing” were uttered by critics of meal-skipping programs suggesting that airlines might be trying to hide reduce costs under the guise o sustainability. In 2020, when Japan Airlines (JAL) launched its meal-skipping option, the airline enticed fliers with a complimentary amenity kit in exchange for skipping a meal.
One critic, Gary Leff of the blog View from the Wing, called the amenity kit “a token” arguing that the program put too much onus on the passenger to make a change rather than the airline itself.
I suppose it’s ethical of Japan Airlines to save money by reducing food waste, but is it an ethical obligation for the passenger to make their meal decisions at least 25 hours prior to departure, in other words, to know whether their future self is going to be hungry?Gary Leff, critic of the blog View from the Wing
Originally, the JAL program was called the “ethical meal skip option,” but the word “ethical” has disappeared since then. In addition, the amenity kit offer has ended, replaced by a partnership with a charity called Table for Two. The airline says that for each skipped meal, it will donate a small amount to this charity, which provides school lunches to children living in poverty. However, the airline doesn’t specify how much money it donates or which schools or regions are served.