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Indian airlines revamp their in-flight menus amid intense competition

From croissants to Galouti kebabs and Medu vada, Indian carriers, both low-cost and full-service, are revising their in-flight menus to offer passengers a differentiated fare as competition is heating up amid the boom in air travel with the waning of Covid-19.

On Monday, Air India, which was taken over by the Tata Group on January 27, unveiled its new domestic in-flight menu comprising gourmet meals, new appetizers, desserts, and local dishes.

Air India’s economy class passengers would now be served dishes such as Mushroom cheese omelette, Dry jeera aloo wedges, and Garlic tossed spinach and corn for breakfast, and Vegetable biryani, Malabar chicken curry, and mixed vegetable poriyal for lunch.

The airline – which plans to increase its fleet size from 113 to 143 by next December – said it will serve business class passengers dishes like croissants, sugar-free dark chocolate oatmeal muffins, cheese and truffle oil scrambled egg with chives, mustard cream-coated chicken sausage, along with Indian dishes such as aloo paratha, Medu vada, and Podi idly for breakfast in business class.

Other dishes on the menu for business class passengers include Fish curry, Chicken chettinad, and Potato podimas for lunch, Air India said.

Vistara and Air India – both owned by the Tata Group – are the only two full-service carriers in India.

With Covid-19 receding, there has been an increase in air travel. For instance, 375,482 passengers travelled on domestic flights on Sunday, which is close to the nearly 420,000 passengers who travelled daily on domestic flights before the pandemic.

Vistara’s chief commercial officer Deepak Rajawat told Business Standard that the airline keeps updating its menus based on customer feedback, locations and availability of fresh ingredients.

“For instance, we recently upgraded our menu on the shorter sectors, replacing refreshments with meals based on the ‘time of the day’,” he added.

Vistara incorporated several healthy meal options to ensure that its meals cater to customers with diverse palettes, and nutritional and dietary requirements, he said.

“We recently introduced vegan meal options for premium economy and business class customers that include dishes like Garden green salads, South Indian platter, Diwani handi. We also proudly serve some much-treasured regional delicacies on select routes,” Rajawat noted.

Similarly, India’s largest airline, the low-cost carrier IndiGo, has also revised its menu.

IndiGo recently added dishes like Aloo mini samosas, Steamed vegetable bao, Cracked wheat salad, Mushroom galouti slider, Hara bhara kebab, and Sabudana khichdi.

The Tata group’s other airline, AirAsia India, which is a low-cost carrier, also revamped its in-flight menu “Gourmair” recently.

Talking about the changes, Siddhartha Butalia, AirAsia India’s chief marketing officer, told Business Standard that the airline’s latest additions are the Navratri special hot meal, Kuttu ki poori with tilwale aloo and makhana kheer, and the Awadhi dish Galouti kebab with ulte tawa ka paratha, coinciding with the commencement of its operations from Lucknow.

The need to differentiate on services like meals, enhance ancillary revenue, and create a distinct space in flyers’ minds was the genesis of the new Gourmair menu, Butalia said.

He added that the new menu celebrates the “diversity of our rich culinary and cultural heritage while catering to the increasingly diverse culinary preferences of our guests” with a wide range of vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, red meat, poultry, eggetarian, Jain and healthy options.

Talking about prices, he said the airline’s competitive pricing philosophy on flight fares extends to its ancillary services as well, offering hot meals to passengers at prices “lower than the competition sells pre-packed sandwiches”.

Butalia said the airline believes in a uniform pricing philosophy.

“This means rather than pricing at Rs 25 differentials, all our hot meals are priced at Rs 500, and pre-booked sandwiches, rolls and seasonal fruit platter at Rs 400.

“And they all come with a complimentary choice of beverage.”

Low-cost carrier Go First told Business Standard that it recently updated its menu and has a strong focus on the quality and freshness of ingredients used.

“Previously, our vegetarian selection had flavours of the locally sourced ingredients including perishables, ready-to-eat, munchies and beverages (hot and cold). However, as part of continuous product development we have introduced a beautifully curated cottage cheese sandwich flavored with Indian spices served in freshly baked marble bread,” the airline said.

Charcoal-grilled mildly spiced Chicken tikka sandwich, butter croissant, smoked chicken and Tandoori paneer are also being offered to passengers, Go First said.

“Our salad offering entails fresh local produce with emphasis on freshness of locally sourced ingredients,” it added.

Budget carrier SpiceJet said it has been offering some special meals for passengers who have dietary or religious restrictions, meals such as diabetic meals, gluten-free meals, Jain hot meals or a Jain sandwich, along with some choices of low calorie salads and a fruit platter.

SpiceJet said it has designed a special kid’s meal consisting of a burger, chocolate bar, ragi bites and beverage that comes in a funky-looking airplane bag for children to takeaway.

“Our food and beverages prices have been consistent over the years to make them affordable to our passengers,” it added.

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