Why you won’t be asked ‘chicken or beef’ onboard future flights

Airlines like Emirates have been experimenting with a pre-booked meal service for passengers made online and in advance

You sit down in your airplane seat and politely follow the flight attendant’s directives. Buckling up your seat belt when you’re told to, powering down your devices upon request, double checking that your seat back and tray table are in the upright position. The plane is ready for departure and takes off. The two bell signal dings, indicating that the plane has reached a comfortable cruising altitude and that passengers can now move about the cabin. And the meal service begins shortly thereafter.

You’ve been a good passenger by doing everything you’ve been told up until now. Gosh darn it, your stomach starts to grumble ­– a sure sign that hunger is setting in and that you’re ready to eat. The flight attendants come over the speaker and announce today’s menu: beef or pasta. It’s then that you remember you’re sitting towards the back of the plane and the possibility you might not get what you want.

In what seems like hours for the flight attendants to get back to you, you’re fully committed to the idea of having the beef tips with the side of mashed potatoes. But just then, the guy in front of you orders the very last tray of beef. You’re practically ready to pound him over the head and steal his tray of beef. Does this scenario seem excessive? Perhaps you prefer to eat low-carb diet or detest the taste of that low-quality cream sauce 32,000 feet in the air.

Never fear however, because the days of being asked if you would like “Beef or Pasta” might soon be coming to an end. Emirates is one of the first airlines that is working towards introducing a pre-booked meal service. And most likely, other airlines will follow suit – it’s all about meal efficiency and practicality.

If the pre-booked meal service is implemented, it will ensure, that even travelers, all the way in the back of the plane will get their first-choice preference. It only seems like good things can ensue from such a move – mitigation of unnecessary stress and aggravation while on flights, hope for an overall better customer service and in-flight experience. It would eliminate one less thing for people to quietly seethe about in their seat.

There’s a catch though. If all goes well with the pilot program, you will need to pre-book a meal in advance and online before a certain period of time. Because the meals will be loaded on to the planes according to the volume of pre-booked orders. Once on the plane, there’s no changing your mind at the last minute – if you ordered beef, you’ll have to commit to beef. Unless for some odd reason, there are leftovers. The cabin crew would be left with no choice but to flat out decline your request in mid-air should you try and change your mind.

Certain airlines in the United States have also been trialing a pre-booked meal option service. United Airlines is one among the first to try but is currently being offered for select First Class Passengers only and, moreover, on a limited number of flight segments. In the case of United, customers can choose their preference from five days out and up to 24 hours before departure time.

There are many low-cost carriers that already permit passengers to book meals in advance when booking a ticket or checking in for the flight. But these meals are not free and come with an additional charge. The positive side of a pre-book meal service is that airlines can offer more choices for in-flight dining and prevent excess waste at the same time.

As for Emirates, the passengers who will be traveling in Premium Economy Class (soon to launch on Emirates) might be able to choose their meals from the Business Class menu, rather than from Economy Class.