Chicken or beef? It’s a question familiar to any traveller, particularly on long-haul flights. In business and first classes especially, airlines try to avoid running out of options – passengers pay for premium service and expect to have the meal they’d like.

This means that airlines end up carrying more food than is required, to try and satisfy as many passengers as possible. It leads not only to more waste than is necessary, but also increased CO2 emissions from extra weight being carried. On an aircraft like the Boeing 777, a typical airline might carry 75 catering trolleys and although airlines are investing in new light-weight models (see page 36), if they can leave a few at the airport by carrying less food on board, it is a bonus! 

An increasing number of airlines are trying to avoid over-catering by encouraging premium passengers to choose their meals before they even reach the airport. This not only means that the airline has to carry just the required meals, but that it also can offer a wider variety of options to passengers. Some airlines are also implementing the system for economy passengers.

When a passenger books their flight (or in the ‘manage my booking’ section), they are given meal choices which can be completed usually up to 24 hours in advance of the flight. The order is then passed to the catering company and the correct meals loaded on board.

Thai Airways has gone one step further. It was the first airline to introduce carbon footprint information for its menu on board for passengers in 2009, showing the amount of greenhouse gases released in the production process starting from acquiring the raw materials, production, adding ingredients, packaging and storage as well as waste management.

In 2014 Thai Airways introduced carbon footprint information for 30 on-board menu choices and applied for certification from the GHG Management Association. Whilst this helps passengers make informed meal choices, it has also helped the airline to work with suppliers on identifying opportunities for emissions reduction in the on-board meal production process.