Asian Airlines Scale Down In-Flight Service to Stem Coronavirus Outbreak


Coronavirus China
Image: BoyuZhang1998 via Wikimedia Commons

Asia’s airlines have largely bucked global trends and continued a full-service experience on short-haul flights. Official airline commentary often notes the cultural importance of food and there are arguments it is cheaper to be full-service in Asia than in other regions, but expenses, even if lower, are still costs. Recent in-flight service changes as a result of the coronavirus outbreak could give rise to data points on the effect of offering a simpler in-flight service.

Some Asian airlines are reducing in-flight services on certain short-haul routes in order to limit the spread of germs as the region contends with the coronavirus outbreak. The revised service sees Cathay Pacific offer a hot snack while China Airlines is giving passengers complimentary headphones on request and Thai Airways will have a full meal service but ask passengers not to touch the trolleys.

While these are regular in-flight offerings elsewhere in the world, they are reductions from a week ago, when China Airlines automatically gave headphones to passengers and distributed pillows and blankets, which will now be removed. The airline has also replaced tablecloths, napkins and head pads with disposable alternatives and said there will be greater cleaning focus on tray tables and overhead bins. The changes took effect January 28 on flights between Taiwan and Mainland China/Hong Kong.

Cathay the next day announced similar adjustments for Mainland China flights. The carrier is maintaining tray service in business class, but all courses will be served at once, to reduce the movement of items and risk of cross-contamination. Business-class catering service will replace traditional first-class service.

Cathay’s snack is in lieu of a traditional tray service in economy. The Coronavirus has wiped out promises of leading hospitality: Cathay says it aims to “deliver a satisfactory in-flight experience.” But, the airline has underlined the interim nature of these changes, emphasizing that “this modified service offering is strictly a temporary measure designed to further strengthen our health and safety protocols.”

Thai’s measures focus on decontamination. The airline’s president, Sumeth Damrongchaitham, gathered media at an airport hangar on Tuesday for a demonstration and encouraged photos of cleaners in hazmat suits spraying down Thai’s seat covers. Thai cleans 36 onboard touch points, followed by a 15-minute overall disinfection and 30-minute sterilization.