Anybody over 30 probably heard stories from their parents and grandparents about the gold old days when the journey by plane was as exciting as the destination. Even when the aviation industry became democratized in the early 1970s with the arrival of budget airlines and the onboard class system, it held a certain magic to it.
… Then life happened when consumers were making other travel plans. The emphasis shifted from customer service to the bottom line. This is why when an airline considers an upgrade to the general economy experience in some way, it makes news. Santiago-based LATAM, which serves Latin America to and from North America, Australia, and Europe, spent a good part of 2017 making a major splash in its development, creation and implementation of economy-cabin food service for long-haul travel (seven hours or longer), complete with a menu, three selections, healthier kids’ fare and even some snazzy improvements to the in-flight food tray.
Some may argue this carefully plotted and planned program is a wonderful throwback to the days where eating in flight was fun and the food a bit fresher. Others may say it could be a standard bearer for other airlines to follow in winning back customers. Regardless, the development of the new program has been a fascinating journey for the carrier.
When the rollout was fully completed in November 2017, LATAM invited a select group of travel industry players and journalists to celebrate with an exclusive tour of the airline’s headquarters followed by a luncheon that featured eight of the 300 new dishes the airline estimated would serve an average 4,000 passengers on 64 flights each day. Claudie Sender, senior vice president clients, LATAM Airlines Group, noted the program was developed over 16 months in collaboration with catering professionals at Gategroup Innovation Centre in Amsterdam. Naturally, several in-flight test meal services followed, based on passenger feedback.
The final product — offered to all economy passengers at no extra charge — is truly a “less-is-more” proposition, with one generous meal plate, roll and dessert replacing the five or six mini portions. The menu includes a choice of a hot meal with meat or fish, a vegetarian option and a cold selection akin to a salad one may order in a higher-end fast casual restaurant (think smoked chicken or salmon with crisp vegetables), along with a sweet native to Chile, Peru, Argentina or another South American country.
During the official launch event, guests got to sample a salmon dish, a beef brisket with corn pudding and asparagus, and spinach-ricotta cannelloni with saffron sauce. However, the ultimate proof of the concept working on board needed to be in the pudding. From what I could taste on the two flights from Santiago to Lima, Peru, and back to Los Angeles, the realization overall was impressive … and truth be told, the economy-class pasta dish was actually tastier than its business-class counterpart served on the inbound flight to Chile. And while LATAM’s business-class pods were pretty plush, the economy seats were as roomy as premium economy seats on other carriers.