The In-flight beverage experience
This summer sees the 70th anniversary of the first Farnborough International Airshow. Back in 1948 the Hampshire airfield still had one or two craters left over from World War Two German bombing raids but over the seven decades that have followed the world of aviation have moved on considerably. So what is the connection between Farnborough International Airshow 2018 and UKVending? Simple, we thought we’d celebrate this remarkable anniversary and take a look at how the serving of in-flight beverages has moved on and what we can expect to see in the future of aviation.
British airspace is amongst the busiest in the world – last year 8,000 aircraft passed over our collective heads on their way to various airports. All our main airports are a hive of organised activity and one of the few things that we can all enjoy en route to the departure gate is a nice cup of tea or coffee as we wait for our flight.
Before we started writing this article we thought we knew everything about in-flight beverages, after all we’ve all been on airliners. The attendant comes round offers us the chance to drink a ridiculously small can of a soft drink at a sky high price, right, or perhaps you’d prefer a cup of tasteless tea or coffee? We can at least explain why the coffee and tea taste…well tasteless at altitude…it’s all to do with our human physiology and our taste buds, unlike us, don’t care too much for flying. The price of a small can of Coca Cola, however, is even easier to explain…airline profits.
Back in the early days of flying, it was extremely hard to provide suitable refreshments for travellers. A simple electrically powered tea urn was usually the only piece of equipment alongside cups and saucers. The reputation of in-flight refreshment got off to something of a rocky start. Post war and with the explosion of new aircraft designs and a parallel increase in passenger numbers the focus on people actually enjoying travelling became of paramount importance. Central to this was that they had got quality teas, coffees and other beverages. Fridges, ovens, microwaves and coffee machines steadily became more and more prevalent onboard aircraft until today’s Boeing, Airbus and other manufacturers airliners have an amazing array of equipment just to keep the customers watered and fed.
So what can we expect in the future of in-flight beverage delivery? Many of the exhibitors at this years’ Farnborough International Airshow will be more willing to talk about ‘whole aircraft experiences’ and skim over the small details, but look a little closer in the cabin crew compartments and you will see new innovations designed to make life easier and more convenient for both the aircrew and the flying public. In recent years there has been a growth in the use of robots to perform many traditional human roles and it could also extend as far as cabin crew. Instead of a man or lady walking up and down the aisles of the plane pushing their cart in the future it could just as easily be performed by a robot dispensing hot and cold drinks.
One German company called Sell GMBH, which specialises in air travel meal service equipment, has already filed a patent for a conveyor type system that in many ways resembles the system used in many a sushi restaurant. The system will instead of unagi rolls deliver pre-requested items direct to customers sitting in first, business or even in economy. There are a number of really good reasons to support this innovation. Firstly it means that the aisles are clear of obstructions and also it cuts down on unnecessary human labour and effort. Already in most aircraft are touch screens that allow customers to order drinks and meals from their seats without having to push the call button to attract the attention of a member of aircrew. In the parlance of the aviation industry they call this and other similar systems as ‘computer aided logistics’. Sell GMBH, however, noted that their concept is not entirely new. They dip their hat to inventor Martin Limanoff, who in 1965 envisioned the ‘Aircraft monorail Automat’. In the mid 1960’s we aimed for and got to the moon, but the Aircraft monorail Automat was perhaps a step too far in aircraft design in that era. That was the 1960’s but now in the 2010’s, perhaps it is now the right time to investigate how to improve the in-flight beverage experience and perhaps Farnborough International Airshow 2018 is the place to set the ball rolling.
Written by Patrick Boniface 2017