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Serving meals during COVID-19 - airlines vs restaurants

Serving meals during COVID-19 - airlines vs restaurants

Old Sep 22, 20, 9:31 pm
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Serving meals during COVID-19 - airlines vs restaurants

Hi - this question is out of curiosity and to educate myself. Admittedly I have not been on an airplane since February but I've been in plenty of restaurants and had the pleasure of reading trip reports during this time. It seems that most U.S. airlines (and many others) have resorted to serving meals in wrapped containers on trays (whether hot or cold or in a bag), reduced multi-course servings, and deliver drinks in plastic cups to avoid personal contact and social distance in Biz and First class. Restaurants, however do not practice this and with the exception of waitstaff wearing gloves, there are no other substantial changes that I have noticed with serving of food due to COVID. Health purposes being the most important, what are the main differences here that cause airlines to take these measures compared to restaurants?
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Old Sep 22, 20, 10:12 pm
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Originally Posted by mhbnyc View Post
Health purposes being the most important, what are the main differences here that cause airlines to take these measures compared to restaurants?
I am not a health expert. But here is my 2 cents.

For example, when you buy a McChicken from McD, it means to be consumed in moments (in restaurant, car, or home). Only a limited number of people will have access to your food (the cook and the "packer").

But airline food are meant for storage. There are teams of people who have access to the food. And you can't have food poisoning on the plane (Seriously - you want to see 100+ people all waiting for the lavatories?).

So airline food are treated in a higher scrutiny over restaurant food.
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Old Sep 22, 20, 11:23 pm
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A large part of it is simply cost-cutting. The purpose of going to restaurants is for the experience of eating and you pay a significant markup over the cost of the food. If the restaurant experience becomes a takeaway experience with food you can buy from a supermarket or throw together at home, why bother going to a restaurant?

The purpose of going on an airline is to get somewhere. Outside of flyertalk and travel bloggers nobody flies just because they want to eat food on a plane. It is only served because it is a necessity and to alleviate passenger boredom. In principle, for flights under 3 or so hours, there is no need for food at all.

Given that airlines are already losing passengers and having a large proportion of planes out of service, it makes sense that they want to reduce the costs of providing food.

The other point about restaurant food being served immediately after cooking (which will kill any viruses) rather than being cooled, stored and reheated is valid too. Wrapping food that is going to be eaten straight away actually adds risk as you have to almost touch the food instead of using utensils. Restaurants are also often in less enclosed spaces and/or have the ability to spread tables out somewhat, which reduces the risk of waitstaff making multiple trips to and from the kitchen. Using disposable cutlery and cups means that the chance of passengers having the virus and spreading it to the flight attendants is reduced.
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Old Sep 23, 20, 8:59 am
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Originally Posted by :D! View Post
A large part of it is simply cost-cutting.
It's this. Cost cutting and maybe a bit of safety theatre to go along with it. CV is not food-borne.
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Old Sep 23, 20, 10:18 am
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Another big factor is proximity and the lack of protection when eating/drinking (no mask). Restaurants are mostly limiting to outdoors and/or reduced capacity, while passengers in Y are packed in like sardines. The issue when eating/drinking is that everyone has their mask off at the same time, and there are also many conversations between companions, since they are not being distracted by video/infotainment. This all means that we are breathing quite a bit, with zero protection, and what we are breathing out will end up in the respiratory tract and on the food of our neighbors. There is definitely an increased risk of spreading the virus in this manner. The recent story about how one passenger infected 15 others(mostly in J) on flight in March to Vietnam highlights just how readily COVID can spread in an airplane when no protective measures are taken (which is exactly what happens during meal/drink service on a flight). There are also quite a few anit-mask people who will exploit this loophole by pretending to be eating/drinking the entire time, just to avoid putting on a mask.
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Old Sep 23, 20, 9:09 pm
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My thoughts on the OPís question are that I regard domestic US flying as less risky from a COVID standpoint than going to a restaurant. The airports are empty and the airlines I fly on (Delta and Southwest) require masks and keep an empty seat between all passengers. Delta serves very little food or drink. All of this means that the planes have few people even talking very much during a flight. Not that I worry about eating out, but I look for things: no bar or well away from the bar, preferably a patio, masks off at the table but worn elsewhere, etc. I would add to the OPís observation about restaurants: I havenít seen a waiter without a mask since early June anywhere in 9 states, including three trips to Florida.
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Old Sep 23, 20, 9:47 pm
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Just to add to Justin026 's point about DL's serving little food or drink "means that the planes have few people even talking very much during a flight." Can the airlines please keep the mask requirements even after Covid is no longer a threat? If one good thing has come out of the mask requirement it's, IMO, the end of having to nicely respond to some stranger sitting next to me who wants to chat.
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Old Sep 23, 20, 10:04 pm
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Originally Posted by CJKatl View Post
Just to add to Justin026 's point about DL's serving little food or drink "means that the planes have few people even talking very much during a flight." Can the airlines please keep the mask requirements even after Covid is no longer a threat? If one good thing has come out of the mask requirement it's, IMO, the end of having to nicely respond to some stranger sitting next to me who wants to chat.
As with all things, thereís an antithesis to this. The folks who feel as though they need to talk even louder so you can hear them through their mask.
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Old Sep 24, 20, 12:32 am
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Anything with airlines seems to go through a process of multiple people while restaurants is a lot less people.
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Old Sep 24, 20, 8:37 am
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Originally Posted by cmd320 View Post
Cost cutting and maybe a bit of safety theatre to go along with it. CV is not food-borne.
When we were first dealing with Covid in Feb. and March, transmission of the virus was thought to be by both aerosols and fomites. The change in handling of food, (which as @garykung noted was always to a higher level of safety for the reasons he pointed out) was to eliminate fomite transmission.

We now know that fomites are not mode of transmission of this disease. Of course unmasking while eating would increase possible airborne transmission, but eliminating this would entail eliminating all meals, not just wrapping food in plastic which is what the airlines are doing now. Serving an open hot meal would be no different than a cold plastic wrapped sandwich in regards to Covid safety. If you want to argue the no masks during eating as the reason for lack of food, then logically, one should ban all food from a plane, either served or brought on. (if you are going to keep your masks on the entire flight )

So this leaves cost cutting as the primary reason meals are gone. Less FA contact is a secondary benefit (less passenger/FA contact in the cabin) but with everyone masked these days, not nearly the concern it once was.
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Old Sep 24, 20, 3:03 pm
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Thanks for your responses. cost-cutting absolutely makes sense as the driving factor. I guess I was mostly trying to understand in the situations where the same hot food is being served as was pre-COVID, what is the benefit to serving it covered in foil that the pax has to unwrap given the findings about no transmission via food? this likely only pertains to longer-haul, premium cabin customers these days. I imagine by not having FAs remove foil in the galley prior to serving, it reduces touchpoints for them even with wearing gloves. The same can be said for consolidating meal courses onto one tray.
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Old Sep 26, 20, 3:58 am
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Yes. And so I now think that airlines should minimize food and beverage service for public health reasons. For example, for flights up to 3 hours, provide only a bottle of water and a straw, in all classes. For 3-5 hours, provide a small snack. Provide meals only on flights of 5 hours or longer. I don't think it would be practical to ban food that people bring, but at least they would be eating it at staggered times, rather than at roughly the same time for airline-provided food and beverages, and it would only be a fraction of passengers. Also, anyone who has a medical need for a little food can bring it as well.


Originally Posted by radonc1 View Post
When we were first dealing with Covid in Feb. and March, transmission of the virus was thought to be by both aerosols and fomites. The change in handling of food, (which as @garykung noted was always to a higher level of safety for the reasons he pointed out) was to eliminate fomite transmission.

We now know that fomites are not mode of transmission of this disease. Of course unmasking while eating would increase possible airborne transmission, but eliminating this would entail eliminating all meals, not just wrapping food in plastic which is what the airlines are doing now. Serving an open hot meal would be no different than a cold plastic wrapped sandwich in regards to Covid safety. If you want to argue the no masks during eating as the reason for lack of food, then logically, one should ban all food from a plane, either served or brought on. (if you are going to keep your masks on the entire flight )

So this leaves cost cutting as the primary reason meals are gone. Less FA contact is a secondary benefit (less passenger/FA contact in the cabin) but with everyone masked these days, not nearly the concern it once was.
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Old Sep 26, 20, 7:58 am
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Originally Posted by AlanInDC View Post
Yes. And so I now think that airlines should minimize food and beverage service for public health reasons. For example, for flights up to 3 hours, provide only a bottle of water and a straw, in all classes. For 3-5 hours, provide a small snack. Provide meals only on flights of 5 hours or longer. I don't think it would be practical to ban food that people bring, but at least they would be eating it at staggered times, rather than at roughly the same time for airline-provided food and beverages, and it would only be a fraction of passengers. Also, anyone who has a medical need for a little food can bring it as well.
Utterly ridiculous. No food in F in a 4.5 hour flight?
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Old Sep 27, 20, 1:21 am
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Originally Posted by CJKatl View Post
Can the airlines please keep the mask requirements even after Covid is no longer a threat? If one good thing has come out of the mask requirement it's, IMO, the end of having to nicely respond to some stranger sitting next to me who wants to chat.
Noise-cancelling headphones are a much more practical solution to this particular problem.
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Old Sep 27, 20, 10:25 am
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Originally Posted by econ View Post
Noise-cancelling headphones are a much more practical solution to this particular problem.
Got 'em. Use 'em. They work most of the time but sometimes the seatmate waits to pounce the second you take them off or starts talking anyway so out of politeness the headphones come off. The masks might be the best second defense protection against the talking seatmate, at least until I get permission to tape a seatmate's mouth the second I am asked what kind of work I do, where do I live or what is my favorite flavor of potato chip. And yes, I have been asked.
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