British Airways Will Stop Loading Enough Food For All Passengers To Eat

British Airways has been trying to regain its reputation as a premium carrier, after years of cutbacks under CEOs Willie Walsh and Alex Cruz. But the instinct to cut costs runs deep at Waterside. A new initiative, under the guise of conservation, has them reducing the amount of food on board.

According to an internal company memo they will no longer load enough catering so that all passengers can eat. This assumes that some passengers will prefer to skip meals in order to sleep. And it will allow them to ‘reduce waste.’

  • The amount of food eaten on board is less than what’s loaded, and that does mean waste.
  • They can estimate and build models for how much food they’ll need.
  • But previous trials that BA has undertaken have left flights without enough food for everyone on board.

In the coming weeks, British Airways will put that theory to the test by no longer loading enough meals for every passenger on certain late-night and early-morning flights.

An internal memo explained that the project’s ultimate goal was to cut down on mountains of food waste that accumulate at the end of every long-haul flight.

…British Airways insiders, however, claim that previous experiments to reduce food waste at the airline meant customers had to go hungry because there weren’t enough meals for everyone who wanted to eat.

BA will not be alone in loading food at less than a 1:1 ratio to passengers. There are even companies that assist using artificial intelligence to track how much food is uneaten on each flight and predict future consumption in order to reduce catering waste and lower costs.

It’s a good reminder, though, that your ticket for a flight with meal service does not, in fact, entitle you to a meal. It only entitles you to food if there’s any left when crew reach your row.

Update: British Airways offers,

We’re continuing to invest in our catering experience and are focused on providing great food and drink which our customers love, whilst working hard to reduce our food waste. We’re reviewing meal loading on flights where we are seeing consistent patterns of food waste while ensuring all customers that request a meal receive one.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve never had a meal on BA in economy that was worth eating. Also, most East Coast to London flights are under 7 hours, so on late departures why would anyone need to eat?

  2. Wow. I’m sure the steely British demeanor will axcompany the “We’ve run out of food. Sucks to be you having paid for Club World”.

  3. More of the ULCC mentality from Walsh. How is BA supposed to repair the Walsh/Cruz damage if they keep making stupid mistakes like this?

  4. Screw these free loading customers who paid for their tickets.
    Let these rich bas*ards starve.Who do these self entitled folks think they are?
    Let em fly sleasy jet or Ryan Bear if they don’t like it!
    Up our corp parachutes!

  5. I disagree. If your flight offers meal service then your meal is included in the price of your ticket and you are due compensation.

  6. Last time I flew BA up front (EWR-LHR) they didn’t even offer full meal service on late departures. passengers were advised to eat in the lounge if they wanted a full meal. Food offerings in the lounge were uninspired. Between that and their ridiculously cramped configuration in Club World, I avoid BA at all costs. Hell, I’d rather fly AA to London.

  7. I’m starting a timer right now to see how long it takes before we see an article on here with the headline, “I had to starve on my flight because they ran out of food”

  8. @Doug

    Seriously? Why do so many Americans settle for mediocrity? British Airways is not a low cost carrier… A complimentary meal is the least a full service airline can provide on a 7 hour flight. 7 hours is a long time to go without a meal, especially when you consider tight connections, time spent at check in, security lines, immigration, and customs… The customer experience matters!

  9. Why do people who support a capitalistic market act surprised when that market behaves exactly as it’s supposed to? This is what you all want.

  10. This will provide a *wonderful* experience for premium cabin passengers.
    Is BA so broke and so inept that they really need to do this and risk losing business over a meal?
    This has stupid written all over it.

  11. I bring my own food, why would I eat something which I don’t know how it’s made, if I really have to on long flights I select and book a specific meal in advance, no time for that? Suit yourself.
    Get your life organized or don’t, who cares.

  12. This is beyond ridiculous. There are people with medical problems who truly NEED to eat and given we’re not allowed to carry food on unless it’s from the outrageously overpriced shops in the airport, it’s ridonkulously stupid. Diabetics, ppl subject to hypoglycemia, poss. nursing mothers and many, many more have to eat. There are lots of reasons it’s difficult or impossible without plane food. Smh

  13. It is reasonable that they should know how many people eat on the average and they know the standard deviation. As an example (I have no idea what the actual numbers are on a given route), if on a 200-passenger flight they know an average of 150 eat and the standard deviation is 10, they can board 180 meals and they’ll be fine 99.7 of the time. On those 3 flights out of 1,000 – once every 11 months if it’s a daily flight – that they fall short they can provide compensation. That works.

    What doesn’t work is if they only board the average number of meals eaten or just a few above that.

  14. I guess British Airways has never heard of allowing passengers to pre order meals. This would help somewhat instead of under catering. Yet BA’s lack of technology is very clear yet again.

  15. I’m glad I’m not flying with British Airways. That’s what happens when you assume. You make an *ss out of u and me.

  16. What’s missing from the article, is the frequency, size and likelihood of this occurrence to evaluate whether this is a real finding or a “so what”. @DaveS has it right.

    When they do run out, are the remaining passengers just SOL or is there some sort of MRE stowed and ready to distribute when needed? I’m thinking so. Vacuum sealed tuna, cheese, crackers, snacks, there have to be a ton of shelf stable items that can put into a kit and feed the deviation when they get it wrong.

    Probably better off then “real” meals

  17. If BA advertises that their ticket fare includes meal(s), then if they don’t deliver wouldn’t that be considered false advertising?

  18. I’m sure that they will repurpose unused parts of meals for those left hungry. They will at least get unneatened dinner rolls. (sarcasm, but only a little bit)

  19. “Food waste” is such a strange concept. It’s only wasted if it is sent to landfill, instead of being used as compost. If this so-called waste was returned to the earth, it would enrich the soil and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. There’s almost zero food waste in my home. Anything we don’t eat feeds the worms who tend my soil and enrich my garden.

  20. For many years BA has been in a race to the bottom thanks to it being so cozy with AA. I actively avoid British Airways having had so many indifferent experiences. There is so many alternatives.

  21. This might be my fault. I fly business class and always decline meal service. I don’t think there’s a way to do it before the flight. I honestly don’t care how long the flight is, there is no way I’d ever eat that go awful food.

  22. This is nothing new. They have been doing this for years. They never used to load enough breakfasts and evening meals on east coast flights usually around 75% as they knew a lot of people would be sleeping or just not want what was on offer. The problems happen when more people want food than has been loaded and the crew have to try to scrape together bits and pieces from other cabins to try to feed the remaining passengers. They didn’t have to take the flack from angry passengers in the accounts office so why would they care.

  23. I agree with James Walters’ comment. There is this technology called preordering which – magically! – would eliminate 90% of this problem.

  24. Makes sense. I never eat breakfast on an eastbound TATL overnight. Airplane breakfasts are near uniformly terrible and there’s much better food and coffee awaiting shortly on the ground.

    I often don’t eat dinner on East Coast TATL departures. Better food on the ground and the flight is too short to waste sleep time on bad airplane dinner.

    Faux Leff outrage aside, this is a logical move.

  25. I don’t see a problem with this, however I think you should be able to preorder your meal request before you fly during check in or when buying tickets etc if you do want a meal on trip. That way when at back of que you had an opportunity to get what you want rather than what’s left. If you don’t bother and don’t get what you want or anything you at least had the opportunity but choose to take a chance and got snake eyes

  26. Preordering meals, like selecting ‘specific’ seats should be done when booking the flight. But better yet, allow people to bring a certain amount of food themselves. Had out regular drinks & stop serving alcoholic drinks all together. Put all nuts who cause havoc &/or gets flights diverted on permanent ‘no fly’ lists. Other than that, people need more compassion from actual people who can help & less cold technology.

  27. There were 400 passengers and only 200 meals were loaded on a flight from JFK to London. The airline caterer had obviously screwed up. One flight attendant had an idea for a solution. About 30 minutes into the flight, she nervously announced. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t know how this happened, but we have 400 passengers and only 200 meals aboard. Anyone who is kind enough to give up their meal to someone else, will receive free liquor for the duration of the flight.” Her next announcement came four hours later. “Ladies and Gentlemen, if anyone wants to change their mind, we still have 180 meals available.” I good friend of mine who is a member of the Church Of Latter Day Saints sent me this reply, “Those 20 that ate and passed on the free liquor were probably probably a group of young Mormon missionaries!” I thought his self deprecating humor was fantastic! Of course…this is a joke but still, funny!

  28. Why bother with food service on airlines? Most meals are tiny and barely palatable. In fact eating while flying is a chore. Crowded seats, aisles, and rushed service by overtasked crews are not conducive for meals. Save money on AI, experts and useless surveys.

    rushed service by overtasked crew and

  29. Have they taken into account some people have to eat regular meals or risk going into a coma. Diabetics for instance.

  30. @James Walters is right. I was waiting for someone to bring this up. Is it so hard to ask passengers to pre-select their meals? That should solve the problem. And just to be safe, they can add on a few extra meals in case some people change their minds. That “technology” for people to pre-select their meals already exists.

  31. Food and Flying should not go together. There’s too much complaining about the wrong food, cold food, too salty too sweet food, Bad food, food poisoning, airsickness and using the lavatory /bathroom. Restaurants are for food.
    They should reduce the airfares then but good luck with that.

  32. BA has been going down the pan for years …but I noticed how they glamorise business first class and of course now there is premium economy which is just what economy was originally …
    Economy really is the pits …seats are very uncomfortable and meals are worse than dog food …
    Sometimes ….not all ….crew are unfriendly …
    Some thing about long haul I think there is an agreement /law that some kind of meal has to be available …
    I would expect that new crew get paid much less than the original BA people so they probably are incentivised to reduce costs and get a bonus for it to make up their pay ….I don’t think they get good pay tbh …
    The passenger suffers ….
    Some easy jet flights I have been on have been very pleasant and efficient and tbh I don’t mind a coffee or sandwich and paying for it …
    Personally though I hate BA for the way it has gone over the last ten years or so

  33. All of you in UK should visit a doctor upon the problem with food you’ve got!!

  34. If you ask people to pre-select a meal or lose it, then everyone is going to order one regardless of true intent and be really, really pissed when there is a screw up. Perhaps charge a nominal fee to ensure intent and true count. Or do away with the hot meal farce entirely and only stock shelf stable items in the room vacated by the dangerous ovens…

  35. As one of my best friends is a country manager for a leading airline catering firm, I have seen first-hand how much food goes to waste. It’s massive.
    Yes, some catering can be recovered – sealed cans of soda for example.. but the vast majority can’t. It’s international garbage (speaking here to cross border flights where international rules apply) and must be professionally disposed of.
    True this IS a cost cutting move.. but that doesn’t mean that it can’t serve two purposes at the same time. Save BA money and avoid waste. It doesn’t have to be a only about costs..

    True, I think airlines have to err on the side of caution and not cater to levels that leave them under-provisioned, but I think it’s fair to take an objective and analytical look at what’s repeatedly going unused and ways to reduce that to lower levels without unduly jeopardizing service.. .

  36. I take my own food from home. I have 70/100 cl transparent containers which I fill with salad items such as chopped cucumber, tomato, beetroot… and I buy pre packed100gr food items like smoked salmon and cold cuts. Spreadable cheese triangles, crackers, slices of bread or rolls. Yoghurt drinks, refill water bottles from departure areas.
    Airlines should reduce the cost of tickets (haha) and charge for food on a pre order basis only. When you think about it, waste is waste and just adds to pollution.

  37. This is *not* new to BA, as a Brit I am often forced to use the profiteering SpangloQatari corporation and have experienced absent / insufficient catering loaded on short and long haul alike, roughly a third of the time over the past decade… Most seriously into India, where additionally my seat was broken and IFE non functional
    BA’s response for landing me into a working day tired and hungry; “since meals onboard are complimentary, we owe you nothing but look forward to seeing you onboard soon”. Neither I nor my team have used BA in or out of South Asia since, even if it means a change.
    If you want reliability, value, adequate customer service channels, competitive (functional) catering and cabin cleaning, then book elsewhere…

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