Delta Alessi dishes

Image via Delta Air Lines

APEX Insight: The fine china that graces the tray tables at the front of the cabin must be as weight- and space-conscious as the stuff used at the back.

What airlines serve their premium meals on is as important as the meals themselves. After all, even the fine china used at the front of the airplane must withstand the challenges of dining in the sky. Recent serviceware launches from Qantas Airways and Delta Air Lines prove that with a little design ingenuity, dining on a seatback tray table can be elegant and efficient, too.

Qantas debuted new tableware by Australian industrial designer David Caon today in the international first-class, business and premium economy cabins on its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight, from Melbourne to Los Angeles. “Gracefully utilitarian” is how Caon describes the 16-piece crockery collection, five-piece brush-finished stainless steel cutlery set and four-piece glassware series. Conceived in partnership with Japanese tableware brand Noritake and the flag carrier’s creative director of Food, Beverage and Service, Neil Perry, the tableware draws its inspiration from the cabin itself.

“Straight lines were kept to a minimum,” Caon Studio director Jeramie Hotz says. This idea translates into knives with grooved handles, cups with slight arches, and ceramic platters and plates with raised rims that also help to mitigate spills. The dishes, made of fine bone china, are a milky, minimalist white, save for two signature pieces in porcelain that are splashed with a light gray ink motif.

Quality and feel were top of mind for both the airline and Caon, whose firm also designed the aircraft’s interior, drawing on the Qantas aesthetic established by designer Marc Newson, Hotz explains. However, Caon was also able to make the range 11 percent lighter than what Qantas previously had in place, without having to sacrifice on material. “Instead of three different bowls performing different functions, there now is one, allowing us to load less crockery overall,” he adds. This will allow the airline to save 535 metric tons of fuel per year.


Image: Qantas

The research process involved in designing the collection was slightly longer than what Caon’s studio is used to. “We had to establish our direction as well as learn about the inner workings of this type of product,” Hotz says. A lesson learned? Teapot lids usually clink in the galley and during meal service. Not Caon’s, though – those lock into their bases. It’s a small detail, but one that passengers will surely appreciate when breakfast time rolls around.

Research and rigorous testing were also a big part of perfecting Delta’s bespoke tableware line, which premiered this past April aboard Delta One and first class, and will be rolled out to Premium Select passengers toward the end of the year. Created in partnership with Alessi, the 86-piece collection is inspired from the Italian brand’s catalog of contemporary goods and is based on designs from six of its designers, with tweaks made to ensure suitability for the in-flight dining environment.

Items in the collection include a water and wine caddy made from thin sticks of bent aluminum by Brazil’s Campana brothers, an extension of their 2004 Blow Up collection; a version of Helsinki-born Kristiina Lassus’ A401 coffeepot, complete with a non-drip spout and cover that opens to 180 degrees; and Milan designer Stefano Giovannoni’s Mami cutlery range, resized for the cabin eating space.

“The dining experience on board an airplane is completely different to being in a restaurant or at home.” — Leonard Hamersfeld, Buzz Products

The seed for the tableware line, developed with global creative agency Buzz Products, was planted at the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo in Hamburg three years ago. “Delta was looking to elevate the in-flight customer experience, and bring an uncompromising level of elegance and service to the onboard experience,” Buzz Products director Leonard Hamersfeld says.

It took until April 2017 for the collection to become a fixture of the Delta dining scene, because each item was put through intense testing. For instance, a wineglass from Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec’s Ovale series, which originally featured a solid base, was hollowed to reduce weight. But hollowing the base reduced stability, so Alessi widened the bottom and also modified the shape of the glass so it would nestle better with others when inverted, taking up 33 percent less room than the airline’s former glasses.

“The dining experience on board an airplane is completely different to being in a restaurant or at home, but one of our challenges was to try to mirror that experience at 30,000 feet,” Hamersfeld adds. “We needed to make modifications while still being true to the original designs.”

“Doing the Dishes Right” was originally published in the 7.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.