In a bid to lure more customers away from its no-frills rivals, Qantas Airways has completely overhauled its economy meals on international flights. The new "economy dining experience" boasts bigger meal sizes, more choices and the ability to pre-order exclusive online dishes prior to flying. There's also a stronger emphasis on upmarket Australian produce such as wagyu beef and a new self-serve option for snacks and refreshments. Yesterday, we were invited by Qantas to try out the new menu ahead of its official launch. Read on for our verdict.
It's no secret that Qantas has been doing it tough lately. In recent months, the airline underwent a massive restructure, resulting in approximately $2 billion in cost-cutting measures that included job losses and the cancellation of plane orders.
One area that Qantas isn't skimping on is inflight dining. Indeed, it's hoping to completely change its customers' perception of what economy food can be. If the airline can be believed, its new menu choices are the best that the industry has ever seen.
Beginning 25 November, Qantas will be offering international economy passengers an all-new dining experience that boasts larger meal portions, more menu choices and faster service. According to Qantas, the new economy meals have increased in size by approximately 50 per cent. If you're one of those people who always feels hungry on long-haul flights, this can only be a good thing.
Qantas is also increasing its economy meal choices from two to three: customers can choose between a healthy option, a "comfort" home cooked-style option and a cuisine option inspired by the destination.
There will also be a fourth, gourmet option on offer for customers who choose to order in advance via Q-Eat; an online service that was previously only available for business class and premium economy. Customers can also use the Q-Eat site to ensure they receive the meal of their choice or to order dietary-based alternatives.
During yesterday's launch event, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said that the new meals were costing the airline around 40 per cent more to produce. To help offset this, Qantas has found new ways to reduce waste during flights. For example, the obligatory bread roll now comes pre-infused with butter.
"This means we don't have to hand out millions of little butter packages to customers and then dispose of them," Joyce explained. "This eliminates waste and we think it's going to be a big winner."
The obvious drawback to the new bread rolls is that you can no longer control your own butter distribution. With that said, the balance seems just about right (not too buttery, not too plain) and you no longer have to faff about with those ineffectual plastic knives.
The inflight meal service has also received a significant shakeup — meals will now be served and cleared around 30 minutes faster and the cumbersome serving tray has been dispensed with entirely. Instead, customers will receive their meals on smaller, rectangular plates.
There are also a range of new self-serve "grazing" options, including Weiss ice cream bars, miniature beef burgers (AKA sliders), fresh fruit and Malteasers. We tried the sliders and found them to be surprisingly good. We were especially impressed by the dinky cardboard case they came in — so cute!
At yesterday's event, Qantas showcased four economy meals that will debut on US services to Los Angeles. This meant we were essentially served 14 hours' worth of food in a single lunch sitting — but as Lifehacker has proved, we're always up for a good food challenge.
The meals on offer included smoky barbecue beef with roasted sweet potato, broccoli and corn, honey roasted chicken with farro salad with pumpkin and sesame seeds, a yellow curry of burramundi with green beans and jasmine rice and wagyu beef with mushroom sauce, green beans and potato mash. We plumped for the wagyu beef, which will be available on Qantas' Q-Eat menu until next March.
Overall, the dish was quite good; especially for economy food. There wasn't a huge amount of meat, but what there was tasted suitably tender and succulent. The potato was fluffy and flavoursome and went well with the mushroom sauce. The green beans were green beans: bland and nutritious.
To be honest, we can't say we noticed much difference in the main meal's size compared to Qantas' previous fare. However, this was more than made up for by the accompanying chocolate mousse dessert, which was massive. When combined with the bread roll, the meal should be enough to sate all but the biggest of appetites. For everyone else, two beef sliders and a bag of Malteasers should help to finish the job.
The new Qantas economy dining experience will be available on a range of flights starting with Melbourne-Dubai-London on 25 November.