Hard to swallow: On-board catering ban yet another blow for airlines

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The revised regulations regarding on-board catering and the consumption of food and drinks on all domestic flights will not be welcome news for some of the country’s airlines. Companies that supply airlines with inflight meals will also not be impressed.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula gazetted the regulations prohibiting inflight catering on Monday 1 March. The regulations prohibit the consumption of all food and beverages, except for bottled water, on scheduled domestic flights within South Africa. And no, passengers can’t take their own meals and drinks along either.

ECONOMIC IMPACT OF BANNING ON-BOARD CATERING

The regulations have economic implications for all airlines that sell food and drinks on their flights.  

Low-cost airlines including FlySafair, Mango Airlines and Kulula do not include meals or beverages as part of their flight tickets. Passengers would normally buy these items once on board. The sale of these items are a means of generating revenue for the airlines concerned.

“Realistically, we’d love to be able to open that much-needed revenue stream, but we’ve not done so because it just hasn’t seemed responsible,” FlySafair’s Kirby Gordon told Tourism Update.

ON-BOARD CATERING A RISK FOR COVID TRANSMISSION

The quality of air inside aircraft cabins is said to be safe for passengers due to the efficacy of Hepa filters which purify the air. There is therefore a relatively low risk of infection when seated in the confined space of an aircraft cabin.

Mbalula announced this in June 2020, saying the Hepa filters “ate the virus”. Local DJ Max Hurrell composed a tongue-in-cheek mix around the minister’s statement that went viral.

REMOVING MASKS IN FLIGHT ADDS RISK

According to the newly gazetted regulation, no meals or beverages may be served, sold or brought on domestic flights. This is because the consumption of food and drinks requires passengers to remove their face masks. Masks are a legal requirement for all South Africans when in public spaces.

“Not having catering on board a flight certainly steals from the experience, but we’ve taken the stance that it’s just the right thing to do in the current circumstances,” Gordon said.

INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS UNAFFECTED

The revised regulation allows airlines operating international flights to provide inflight catering to passengers as pre-packed meals. However, the airline must take all necessary steps to mitigate risk of infection.

The regulation states that “operators conducting international flights may provide catering on board the aircraft provided that they take all risk mitigation, health and safety measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, including the provision of pre-packed meals”.

ALSO READ: Level 1 confusion: Ramaphosa contradicted by ‘bizarre’ new flight rules

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Original Article Posted on The South African