Air New Zealand Alters Onboard Catering Amid Omicron Fears

Air New Zealand is significantly changing how it serves snacks and drinks on its domestic flights. In a world-first, from New Year’s Day, the airline will hand passengers their inflight snack as they leave the plane – a switch from inflight catering to postflight catering.

Air New Zealand’s domestic services are making a temporary switch from inflight catering to postflight catering. Photo: Getty Images

Air New Zealand shifts from inflight catering to postflight catering

Air New Zealand has implemented the (temporary) change to help stop the spread of omicron. With nobody nibbling on popcorn during a flight, passengers should have few excuses to remove their face masks. At least, that’s the plan.

“It’s anticipated that we will soon see the omicron variant within the New Zealand community, so we are making this change now to further safeguard our customers and crew,” said Air New Zealand’s Chief Customer and Sales Officer Leanne Geraghty on the weekend.

“We know customers look forward to their cookie, popcorn, or bliss bites, so rather than pause food and beverage service, we have made the decision to offer our popular snacks to our customers to enjoy when they arrive at their destination.”

While passengers can still request some inflight water, Air New Zealand has now paused all other inflight food and beverage service on its domestic flights. When the aircraft has landed, flight attendants will hand out snacks as passengers leave the plane.

It also follows that Air New Zealand’s late-afternoon happy hour is off the cards for a while. The decision to suspend inflight catering to encourage inflight mask-wearing makes sense. And no one is going to starve. Air New Zealand’s domestic flight sectors are generally short, and their domestic inflight catering is traditionally parsimonious.

It is compulsory to wear face masks on domestic flights in New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images

Is Air New Zealand simply shifting the mask-wearing issue from planes to terminals?

But the move to hand out snacks when leaving the plane is highly unusual. It also shifts the face masks problem from the aircraft and into the airport terminal. Instead of taking off face masks and leaving crumbs on the plane, passengers will potentially take off their face masks and trail crumbs and their viruses throughout the terminal.

But hey, for Air New Zealand, this becomes an airport issue rather than an airline issue. It also allows the airline to take the moral high ground and say they are doing all they can to prevent the spread of omicron in New Zealand.

“Masks are one of the key ways to limit transmission, so making this change will enable our customers’ masks to be kept on throughout the flight and ensure they are as safe as possible while onboard an Air New Zealand aircraft,” Ms Geraghty adds.

“Masks are one of the key ways to limit transmission,” says Air New Zealand’s Leanne Geraghty (pictured). Photo: Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand’s battle against omicron

The first cases of Omicron found their way into the New Zealand community just last week. One of those community cases was an Air New Zealand crew member. Over the last week, New Zealand has identified 90 omicron cases at the border and in managed quarantine.

Airlines worldwide have mandated inflight mask-wearing to slow the spread of coronavirus variants. This is despite the fact that High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on modern jet aircraft remove 99.9% of any circulating viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

Across the Pacific, Southwest’s boss Gary Kelly recently caused ructions by questioning the conventional wisdom and saying he thought wearing face masks inflight didn’t do much in the battle against coronavirus.

But New Zealand and its flag carrier are having none of that kind of incendiary thinking. To date, both New Zealand and Air New Zealand have employed every tool in the arsenal to keep coronavirus at bay. The switch to postflight catering follows that trend.

Air New Zealand says the catering change is temporary and will get reviewed regularly. Inflight catering on Air New Zealand international flights continues as per normal.