Singapore Airlines Under Fire For Using Paper Plates In Business Class
Frequent flyers are getting miffed that the well-regarded airline is serving food on paper plates at the pointy end, lambasting the move as “cheap” – but we ask whether this is a slight against passengers paying extra, or a necessary step to make air travel that bit more sustainable…
For years many first, business and premium economy customers have complained that the historically glamorous experiences offered by airlines around the world have been continually diluted as airlines look to expand their quantity of seats and services available, often sacrificing the quality of said services in the process.
Singapore Airlines (SIA) is no exception. Renowned for high-quality service throughout the airline’s lifetime and recently dubbed “cash-rich” by a number of outlets after a stellar bounce back after the pandemic, the airline has come under fire this week after trialling new serviceware for economy and premium economy customers.
Paper boxes take the place of plastic casserole dishes, and bamboo cutlery replaces metal. Many were under the impression that the trial would only affect regional routes and economy customers, but it seems the trial has been expanded to cover long-haul routes to San Francisco and London, as well as premium economy customers, much to the chagrin of some flyers.
On social media, criticism came in many forms. Facebook users were quick to brandish the new serviceware “cheap” and suggest that “[SIA] should be using proper crockery in Premium Economy like other airlines… very disappointing”. Redditors, on the other hand, banded together to compare the new serviceware to that used by the Singapore Armed Forces.
With ticket prices at an all-time high, you can see where these commentators are coming from. In March, a London-Singapore ticket for economy and premium economy were priced between $3,600 and $11,800 respectively. With such a hefty price tag, you may expect a slightly more solid offering.
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SIA senior vice-president for customer experience, Yeoh Phee Teik, was quick to respond to criticism. After making it clear that the new serviceware had actually cost the airline more than its previous offer, the spokesperson’s first point was on food quality:
“By having a more secure lid instead of the aluminium foil cover, the new serviceware is able to better retain heat and moisture; helping to enhance the taste and texture of our main courses.”
Yeoh Phee Teik
“The lid also allows SIA to offer our customers soupy and gravy-based dishes, which were previously not available in premium economy class and economy class on medium- and long-haul flights,” they add.
However, though the prospect of more and better-preserved gravy is enticing, their second point was perhaps of greater long-term interest: the carrier also said that the move would “help to reduce the amount of single-use plastics on board the aircraft”.
For me, this is where some of the commentators seem to slightly miss the point. Sustainability is the watchword of the day, and that isn’t changing anytime soon. We’ve all seen the endless rafts of stories about celebrities and politicians relying heavily on air travel and the criticism that engenders.
If airlines are to continue to function over the coming decades they will be forced to adapt to a greener world and prove that they can adapt their business practices in-line with changing standards in order to attract a more environmentally conscious consumer and investor.
Therefore, though customers should always feel like they’re getting good value for money – especially if they’re paying the extra for an elevated experience – there’s also an argument to be made that travellers need to ready themselves for rapidly changing standards for air travel.
Don’t get me wrong: I realise that a few paper plates aren’t going to offset the fossil fuels it takes to travel thousands of miles. There are much broader conversations being had about how to enact a paradigm shift in air travel and its relationship to the planet.
However, serviceware does represent a small but significant piece of this much larger puzzle and, if nothing else, is only a minor trailblazer for much greater change to come. To all those that can’t handle eating their dinner with a bamboo fork: like it or not, you need to buckle up, there’s going to be a lot more where that came from.
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