Lufthansa, Austrian and Swiss will cut free food and drinks in short haul economy class

The difference between low-cost carriers and legacy airlines is becoming even smaller: Lufthansa Group announced today that there will be no more free food or drinks on board short haul flights as from spring 2021. 

By Nico.
More by Nico.

How it is now

The ‘network airlines’ of Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian) promote themselves as more luxurious than their low-cost competitors. In summer 2019 I flew economy on an Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to Brussels. You can read the entire review here. The complimentary service looked as follows:

There was a choice between a sweet or a salty snack, with the salty snack consisting of cheese crackers.

Why this isn’t surprising

Lufthansa’s decision of eliminating free food and drinks in economy on short haul flights doesn’t come as a big surprise. 

Other legacy carriers like British Airways or Finnair have been working with a buy on board menu for years now. And in March 2018 Swiss introduced buy on board on short haul flights to and from Geneva. This could be seen as a trial that is expanded now throughout the entire Lufthansa Group.

Why this isn’t necessarily bad news

I used to be rather conservative when it comes to full service airlines, but I must admit I changed my mind, and here is why:

Last summer, two of my friends (no aviation geeks) travelled from Brussels to Greece. They booked with Austrian Airlines, with a stopover in Vienna. 

After their flight, they told me they prefer a low-cost airline with a buy on board menu. Not because they like to spend money, but because they were really hungry and the free snack that was served was rather small. So they would have liked an opportunity to buy more food. So free snacks are great, but don’t get the job done if you’re really hungry.

With a buy on board menu, airlines will try to ‘seduce’ passengers into buying food, rather than just serve a bland snack. Brussels Airlines is a good example here: they teamed up with The Foodmaker in order to sell food on board people actually want to eat.

Why this is utter nonsense

Stop offering free snacks and introducing a buy on board menu might seem fair enough, but the way Lufthansa is announcing it is hilarious because it is so wrong.

Here is what Christina Foerster has to say, the Member of the Executive Board Lufthansa Group responsible for Customers: “Our current snack offer in Economy Class does not always meet the expectations of our guests. The new offer was developed on the basis of feedback from our customers. With the high-quality offer available for purchase, our passengers will be able to decide what they want to eat and drink on their journey.”

So basically she is saying: “People didn’t love orange juice when it was offered for free, they told us they wanted to pay extra for it”? Something tells me this is not true, however Foerster says the decision to cut free drinks is “based on customer feedback”.

Mind the gap

Legacy airlines are starting to look more and more like low-cost airlines. For example at Lufthansa, passengers who book the cheapest tickets can only take 8 kgs of hand luggage with them, they can’t select a seat, seats aren’t much more comfortable and now you don’t even have drinks included. 

The only thing that is still different is the price. If you start comparing, you’ll see that airlines like Easyjet or Ryanair are way cheaper than Lufthansa. 

Former Brussels Airlines CEO Bernard Gustin stated in several interviews: “we will never be as cheap as Ryanair, so we’ll always have to be better”. 

The question is how legacy carriers like Lufthansa intend to be “better” in the future.

Bottom line

Network airlines of Lufthansa Group will eliminate free food and drinks in economy class on short haul flights. This doesn’t come as a surprise, if you take into account that other flag carriers like British Airways have been doing this for years. 

I also think this can enhance the passenger experience, since airlines will try to ‘seduce’ you to buy something, rather than give you a free tasteless snack. 

However, I do think airlines like Lufthansa should consider how they differentiate themselves from low-cost airlines, because prices are still much higher.

Most photos by Nico. 
Photos of Berlin Brandenburg Airport and the sandwich are press photos. 

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