In an age when the stress of falling revenues gets coupled with increasing expectations of the customer, most of the airlines are seeking towards absolute improvement as well as process of reducing focus, quality and cost of the in-flight food and beverages. The objective is to offer enhanced services to add value to the experience of the customer. The trend of Inflight Catering demands serious management solution that is subject to get automated with end-to-end operations related to the in-flight services of the airline Wipro Technologies (2013). Airlines along with the caterers attempts to elaborate current rich experience and expectation of the passenger and concentrates in effective management of costs in catering.
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The in-flight meal or the meal that is served in the flight to the passengers, who are on board, is usually recognised, especially in the domain of commercial airliner. All the in-flight meals are prepared by the airline catering services on a contractual basis. In accordance to quality and quantity there is a great variation in these meals (Jones, 2004b). Different airlines prefer different meal menus as per the kind of passengers that they get. In many cases, these meals are different as per class and companies that are involved in the business structure. The ranges can be noted from simple beverages in case of short-haul flight with economy class to an extension of seven-course exclusive gourmet meal for those who are in the long-haul flight with first class (Rhoades & Waguespack, 2008). There are various literatures that are dealing with the matter of catering, but very least is found with specification on quality oriented in-flight catering. This literature review is on those selected publications that are recognised for offering knowledge about the in-flight catering. However, to meet the research objectives, there is an additional effort made for understanding of Emirates Flight Catering, especially for Emirates Airline.
On a historical note, the foremost provisions for airline meals was initiated by Handley-Page flight, which was an airline company from 1919, and was involved in serving pre-packed lunch boxes for London-Paris flights (Smith, 2013). Further, the trend gets enhanced in the year 1936, when United Airlines made an exclusive installation of first on-board kitchens in order to offer the passengers with fast and hot meals. The approach attained immediate attention and appreciation and started flourishing at a greater speed. The entire business of in-flight catering was inspired and encouraged by the passengers and that added the extra business boon to the airline companies. As mentioned above in the Chapter 1, King (2013) in-flight services for catering services is a wide ranged market and is growing at a very faster pace. An in-flight meal gets interpreted as meal that gets served to the on-board passengers in the commercial airliner. These are the meals that are prepared by determined catering services of the airline. As forecasted by King, this is an industry that is sure to meet a value of 12.35 billion Euros or US$16.5 billion by the year 2018. This development is assured tin terms of adding efficient and newer airplanes with the same is liable to enhance capacity of the passenger, met the increasing demands for quality food, and innovative offerings on menus (Jones, 2004a).
With the process of worldwide acceptance and valued preference for in-flight catering, a determined system has been figured out by Jones (2007) for a better comprehensive note of managing the core elements of in-flight catering. These elements are noted as the concerns related to the growing numbers of customers, the expanding markets, catering Specs. or the speculation, process of ordering and on-time delivery of the materials, assembly of the products or production in particular. There is also the involvement of transportations, uplift, on-board storage and the facilities for on-board storage. Addition of necessary services and the activities related to off boarding and wash-up are some of the necessary elements that are needed to be a part of the in-flight catering system for meeting the growing demands of such services (Fortes, et al., 2010). The Fig. 2 below shows that systematic connection between these elements and the way these get interwoven in offering a determined structure to the process of in-flight catering for any airline.
Figure 1 In-flight Catering System
Source: Jones (2007)
The industry involved in in-flight catering business comprises of five major stakeholders. It is necessary to note that without the basic knowledge of these stakeholders, it is difficult to initiate the authentic thread for this research. According to the Jones (2007) the key stakeholders can be illustrated as airlines or representatives; flight caterers or providers, suppliers to providers or airlines; fare-paying passengers and lastly the distributors (see Fig. 2) -
Figure 2 Major Stakeholders of In-flight Catering
Source: Jones (2007)
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For any airline, maintenance of the right balance among the diversity of in-flight customers is a difficult task. In this context the severity grows as the passenger gets recognised as the main stakeholder in promoting the business concerns related of in-flight catering. The entire category of these stakeholders, comprise of rich private sector entrepreneurs and employees, Government and public employees who are counted for long haul (Jones, 1995). Further there is the inclusion of passengers from the upper-middle class population of any region. These stakeholders are very active in pointing out the negative service oriented features and this must be offered with services as per their expectations and demands.
The airlines that have on-board services of in-flight catering are the second important stakeholders. These airlines are responsible for encouraging in-flight catering in accordance to the duration of flight, embarkation point and disembarkation point, concerns of ethnicity and nationality of respective passengers, provisions of seat class - as the economy, first or business (Tolpa, 2012). These stakeholders are in charge of negotiating the standard of in-flight catering as per their budget, food cost, seasonality, labour cost for creating the food, serving time, appointed flight attendants for serving food, time for consume food, consuming meal in a smaller place inside the plane, effort and time management for clearance of food item, meet the demands of the consumers, rethermalising meal and withstand pressures and low humidity over the meal (Jones, 2007). The airlines are one that takes the responsibility of in-flight catering with the essence of quality oriented services under varied services as followed under traditional format of the particular airline (Parast & Fini, 2010).
Caterers are the third important stakeholders in this business, they are important as they prepare necessary food items, especially when the food is not bought directly from the respective suppliers and to prepare the food for loading on-board and thereby to assemble trolleys and trays (Liou & Tzeng, 2007). The positioning of the flight kitchens are usually close to major airports and are meant for 'manufacture' consumable amount of food items (Jones, 2004b).
The suppliers are liable to supply food for the in-flight catering. Firstly, there is the approach over the management of planned menus, whereby the supplier gets direct orders from respective, though the delivery to the flight kitchens get operated through the contracted caterers (Hatakka, 2000). The suppliers are important as they are the one who are involved in managing the quality of the in-flight catering. Any note of complain can create havoc to the entire reputation of the in-flight catering of the airline flight and there should not be any compromise at this stage (Romano, 1993).
The role of the distributors as stakeholders is related to the approach of global logistics, and moving all over the world in the containers, in general. Distributors are significant as they can provide services to either airlines or the respective caterers (Bowen & Sparks, 1998). The essence of offering quality food is very important as far as these distributors are concerned. Maintenance and transportation at their end must be followed technically to attain place amidst competitive business of in-flight catering (Shaw, 1985)
There are some key challenges that need to be considered while considering the concerns of in-flight catering. These are the challenges that can turn severe once the airline attempts to meet the global competitiveness. The four notable challenges can be articulated as (Booth, 2010) –
These are the basic issues that will are noted to remain vial in case of all kinds of in-flight business modules.
For any company that is into the business of in-flight catering it is necessary to understand the combination of space constraints of the galley as offered by the airlines in contrast to the preferences declared or expected by the Customer (Murray, 1994). Offering appropriate and right selection of meals over various routes, different kinds of aircrafts and configuration of galley is a very complex phenomenon that must be handled well by the catering company (Riwo-Abudho, et al., 2013). These must get well considered in context of the kind of passengers that the airline is handling.
In the current scenario, Airlines are increasing at a faster pace and the routes and connecting spirit of the aircrafts are increasing at a very constant way. As a result, there is a highly competitive environment noted in case of in-flight catering by various airlines (Gillen & Morrison, 2005). Basic challenges are in the domain of planning the galley, customised meal, management of caterer, and meeting expectations of the end customer (Archana & Subha, 2012). An active participation at all these domains are significant in creating the profitable margin and customer loyalty for the airline.
The balance between quality product and the quantity of food is another challenge that must be handled well by the in-flight catering company. Emphasis must be led over uplifting and maintenance of high quality meal with adequate quantity. Absolute maintenance of hygienic standards, especially in suiting the customer’s palate is very necessary (McKool, 1995). The complexity lies in maintaining the right kind of brand image by the company to get a positive feedback from the clients. In case there is any complaint from the customer, it is important to offer quick remedial solution. This is for the prevention of same kind of violations, is any in case of service in catering (DeHart, 2003).
The caterers need to act as per the management of appropriate supply chain organised as per the norms of the airline. This remains imperative as the working of the caterer and the airline is very closely knitted (Frost & Kumar, 2001). Therefore, integration made with caterers is very significant all over the networking approach of the airline company. It is critical to attain success in meeting service standards as per the expectation of the client, adequate amount of transparency can make the job much reliable. The application of allocating optimal inventory and automation of catering order with smooth invoice are the keys to be adopted for clearer settlement of the entire approach of sharing information with the customers (Chang, et al., 1997).
The selection of Emirates Flight Catering or the EKFC, hereafter, is very specific in context of this research paper. With a positive impression over the entire in-flight business of catering, this organisation stands as an ideal approach for any other upcoming company. According to the EKFC Home Page (2014) the total Emirates Flight Catering occupies 90% occupancy of Emirates airline and rest gets shared by Dubai Civil Aviation. This is the reason that this research is trying to interpret the in-flight business of catering module of EKFC in context of Emirates airline, in particular. It was by July 2007 that Emirates airline inaugurated the determined technology in the line of advanced mode of catering facility that has been dedicated towards the process of servicing flights that are under Emirates airline. The core aim of this facility is related to the application of a built-up area that is more than 56,000 m2 and has a total capacity of producing more than 115,000 meals every day. This has been counted as the largest volume of in-flight meal in the world. This is a feature that has attained higher levels of determined systematic automation comprising of electric monorail system that is 2.55km long in terms of transportation of the entire group of meal carts, system of bin conveyor in order to transfer the well hygienic and clean items from respective EKFC’s Ware-wash area to Departments Production and Operations, added by system of vacuum waste along with pipes having a length of more than 600m (EKFC, 2014).
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Eventually it must be noted that the success of in-flight catering is possible when the customer attain right kind of food and ambience on-board. The element of excellence counts a lot in the performance of in-flight catering. Though there are additional factors, yet catering is the main element. This research aims to explore an integrated approach for the attainment of finest integrated in-flight catering solution that will be inclusive of meal planning, right kind of budgeting, load planning to the galley, addition of cost-effectiveness, etc. whereby a combined effort of all the aforementioned stakeholders remain vital in this context.
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