Economy Class Meals Are Getting Smaller To Save Fuel


Weight = fuel cost is an infallible law for Airlines. Thus, they will do anything to make their planes fly as light as possible; things like reducing baggage, and even removing economy entertainment screens. But the latest removal is going a bit too far, Airlines are starting to reduce the size of economy class meals.

Qantas economy meal. Source: Qantas

Why make meals smaller?

It comes down to basic math. On a plane with 300 passengers on board, that’s 300 meals. If each meal, tray, glassware and cutlery has a combined weight of 500g, the aircraft needs to carry a combined total of 150kg. On a long haul flight, where there are multiple meals (2-3 plus snacks), you are potentially looking at hundreds of kilos of food.

And let’s not even talk about carrying a full range of drinks.

So even saving 100g from each meal will reward an airline with far less weight on board and therefore millions of dollars in savings. A famous example of this is from American Airlines in 1987.

The new CEO at the time, Robert Crandall, was an extremely frugal manager. He looked at the range of options his airline was offering and decided to cut down on anything deemed to be  superfluous. One such cut was one olive from each first-class salad in each meal, from three to two. This saved the airline over $40,000 USD ($82,000 today).

He would go on to remove grapefruit juice as a drink option, and hot towels on short-haul routes.

A catering truck loads meals onto an old American Airlines 767. Source: Wikimedia

Who is reducing meals today?

Etihad has become one of the first airlines to make these changes to try and save weight costs.

As reported by, Etihad has decided to “redesign and enhance the economy dining concept”. Great, but what does this actually mean for us?

  • The cutlery will be made out of lighter materials, up to 85% lighter. This, of course, means it will be even harder to cut your bread.
  • The main course will be “higher in quality, with a focus on fresh seasonal ingredients and more destination-focused choices”. By using local ingredients, Etihad can spend less on food transport and delivery across its network. They have also said the meal will now be a ‘bistro’ style meal, whatever that means.
  • “On flights of over three hours, dessert will be served separately with the after-meal coffee and tea service”. Qantas operates a similar way, offering an ice cream cone with their tea and coffee service. We suspect this means the end of cakes or other tasty treats baked locally, but instead shipped in from overseas.

But it is not all bad, Etihad has said they will be offering more options for children and expanding their ‘paid menu’. Yay.

More deluxe meals will be the realm of higher classes. Source: Wikimedia

But these are not all the changes we can expect across the airline industry. Back in 2014, Qantas got rid of tray tables in an effort to reduce their weight footprint. This meant they had to redesign what a ‘meal’ looked like, with many short-haul routes switching to a simple sandwich.

At the end of the day, a smaller meal means that airlines can save money and offer cheaper fares.

What do you think? Should airlines reduce the size of their economy meals?