Imagine a world where you can order food directly from your seat and have it delivered to you directly. That is what Sell GmbH, a German division of Zodiac Aerospace, filed a patent for.
The system is still being developed but will enable passengers to order food through the in-flight entertainment system (IFE) system in real time. Computer systems will process the order and dispense it through a series of conveyor belts (akin to the automated system at Japanese sushi restaurants).
This enables airlines to manage food and drinks to passengers without using trolleys and in theory allow more efficient use of cabin space.
Food ordering through the IFE is not a new concept. Virgin America is one of the first airlines in the world to offer this type of service through their Red™IFE system created jointly with Panasonic Avonics.
However, an automated food delivery distribution system is something that has not been implemented by any airline currently.
There are many pros and cons to this concept:
- Automated delivery systems can offer more real time and personable experience for passengers
- Flight attendants can use the time reduced on food servicing in managing other passenger requests
- Reduction of trolleys and ovens can increase space for more seats leading to higher yields
- Marketing advantage for first generation systems
- Real time inventory management on food ordered can help airlines stock accordingly and avoid spoilage
- Technology hurdles exist to implement the system
- Significant costs to build and maintain first generation systems
- Government approvals could be lengthy
- Windows and middle seat passengers may have a difficult time retrieving their order if the distribution system is built onto the aisle
- Overall system weight might increase leading to higher fuel burn
There are arguments for this type of system being used in First/Business and Economy class.
First/Business class passengers may want personable service but also like privacy. It would be great for them to order a meal or food item without having to wait for a flight attendant. They can also dine at their leisure which is being a service standard.
Economy class passengers can use this type of service whenever there is buy on board service available. They can buy food on demand.
Besides food, this type of distribution system can be used for other items such as duty free and baggage storage.
Time will tell if an automated food distribution system would be implemented in the next five years. It is great that companies are going outside the box to innovate passenger experience of the future.