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Air India's decision to stop serving non-vegetarian meals in economy class reinforces bias against cattle class

Cattle don’t eat non-vegetarian food. So it somehow makes sense when Air India decides to stop serving non-vegetarian food for cattle class flyers.

For those who are unaware of the snobbishness that goes around in the flying circles, those travelling economy are derisively called the cattle class. The reason should be obvious: They buy cheap tickets, sometimes booking tickets when those discount offers are on, and the way they troop in and out of aircraft gives the distinct impression of a herd in motion. Of course, some travelling in the business or executive categories believe they lack in class.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

From the decision of Air India, it is apparent that they consume a lot of non-vegetarian food served during the flight, which they shouldn’t. It’s a big financial burden on the airline which, according to some media reports, has been piling up losses to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore every year on an average. Once the travellers in the economy class on all domestic flights are made to change their eating habit, the balance sheet would look much better. Earlier, it had stopped serving non-vegetarian food to the class if the flight duration was less than 90 minutes.

Without hard numbers it is difficult to contest Air India’s decision, however, one can be certain that it reinforces the class bias already in the minds of some higher class flyers. Of course, they paid more for their tickets. But the airline never made food a point of differentiation between separate categories of domestic travellers. It would certainly have made more moral sense if it had stopped serving non-vegetarian food altogether for all. The national carrier would have appeared more even-handed that way.

It goes without saying that sitting comfort and food have always been redeeming features of an airline that manages to get almost everything else wrong. An accumulated loss of Rs 50,000 crore plus a debt of similar magnitude reveal that not everything is fine with the national carrier. It is not without reason Niti Aayog recently suggested its privatisation. The same recommendation has been doing the rounds for quite some time now. Yet, for the ordinary traveller flying Air India has mostly been an experience, food being an essential part of it. Without a taste of non-vegetarian the experience would stand curtailed for many like him. He wouldn’t mind shifting to rival carriers which make no distinction between travellers on the basis of food they consume.

A better idea for the airline perhaps would have been to stop serving food altogether across classes and providing it to those paying for it. Certain airlines are already doing it, managing costs well in the process. If it calls for adjustment in ticket prices it should not be a problem. The option of snacks in place of complete meals would not be a bad idea too, considering all may not exactly be in the mood for it. This would take some sheen off the carrier as the most hospitable in the country, but in times of mounting losses and cost-cutting it can take the call.

One really wonders how much money the airline would be saving by making non-vegetarian food inaccessible to certain travellers. It would indeed do much better by sticking to its primary role as a carrier: Taking people from point A to point B with little compromise on punctuality. IndiGo has been doing much better by focussing on this aspect only, and cutting down on non-core frivolities. Kingfisher sunk, some would argue, by trying to make air travel a king-style experience.

For now, let’s shed a few tears for the delicious chicken dishes we are going to miss on Air India flights. Also, the fact that some, a few rows away, enjoying it.

Updated Date: Jul 10, 2017 17:07 PM

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