Air India’s future appears to be weak, as the government seems to be looking at disinvestment due to criticism against committing more taxpayers’ money into the carrier. Meanwhile, the staff of the beleaguered airline has suggested that salads from meals for economy class passengers on international flights be removed. A senior airline official wrote to the Air India CMD Ashwani Lohani with staff feedback, including a cabin crew in charge, on how salads often go a waste on international flights. The official informed that only a fifth of the passengers actually consumes the salads. The national carrier has a debt of around Rs 55,000 crore which it has been unsuccessfully trying to restructure. Voices from the government in the recent weeks indicate that a decision on Air India is imminent. Even as the government mulls privatising Air India, policy think-tank Niti Aayog terms the process “very, very difficult”. As the debt-ridden Air India is trying to reduce costs in the littlest of ways possible, like cutting down on salad, it reminds us of a few other instances where airlines have used interesting methods to curb expenditure. One of the examples is an airline which removed one olive from its in-flight dinner plate and saved great amounts of money.
Sometime in the 1980s American Airlines claimed that while many passengers would eat the dinner salads, a majority of them would ignore the customary olive on the plate. This prompted Robert Crandall, who was the airline head during that time, to remove the olive. This move by Americal Airlines helped it to save on the number of ingredients in the salad, and in turn reportedly saved over $40,000 per year. There are several other examples of simple cost-cutting measures, which have helped airlines to save a lot of money. In the year 1994, Southwest Airlines, following a suggestion from its crew, got rid of the company logo from its rubbish bags. This move reportedly helped the carrier save $ 300,000 annually in printing expenditure. The Airline industry serves a varied range of customers and operates on low margins, so how else do these modern carriers reduce costs without cutting corners?
Airlines often choose flight attendants who watch their weight down to decimal places. Companies have got rid of heavy in-flight magazines, use thin carpets and serve food in light-weight boxes. There are examples of airlines which have removed safety equipment for emergency water landings on those flight which do not fly above the water. Many companies have also made the seats lighter. Air Mediterranee, a French airline, replaced 220 economy seats in its Airbus A321 planes. The seats which earlier weighed 12kgs were replaced by thinner ones created using lighter materials like titanium now weigh about 4kg.
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In the year 2013, India’s low-cost carrier GoAir had decided to recruit only air hostesses instead of the ‘heavier’ male flight pursers. Such penny-pinching pays off. Meanwhile, fuel reportedly accounts for one-third of a carrier’s costs and every kilogram thus shed removes a lot of money from the aircraft’s yearly fuel bill. So as technology moves ahead, even meagre design tweaks on modern aircraft also help. Some airlines, like the Southwest airline, use certain winglets to reduce air drag which eventually saves a huge amount of fuel. But till the time company’s like Air India can enable solid measures to actually take off, it will continue to weed out the extra olive, or in this case the whole salad.