Indian Government Instructs Airlines To Restrict Meal Offerings

India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation has directed airlines to stop serving meals on domestic flights under two hours. The decision, set to be confirmed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), comes amid concerns that passengers removing their masks onboard flights will increase the spread of the virus.

Air India 777-300ER
Indian airlines have been ordered to stop serving food and drink on short-haul domestic flights. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

No meals on domestic flights under two hours

Airlines across India will no longer be allowed to serve food on domestic flights with a duration of under two hours. After the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) questioned the wisdom of removing masks onboard flights, the Ministry of Civil Aviation will bring the new directive into force on April 15th.

There have been calls for all in-flight meals to be removed, but the government has only acted on short-haul domestic flights so far. For all international flights and domestic flights longer than two hours, airlines will still be able to serve meals, snacks and refreshments, subject to strict guidelines.

IndiGo ATR 72
Meals and refreshments will still be available on flights longer than two hours. Photo: Getty Images

The directive from the Ministry of Civil Aviation clarifies,

“Airlines are permitted to serve only pre-packed snacks, meals and pre-packed beverages on flights that have a duration of more than two hours. The servicing of in-flight meals must be staggered “among the adjacent seats as far as possible.”

Airlines will be subject to the following conditions when serving meals:

  • Trays, plates and cutlery must be completely disposable.
  • Used trays, plates and cutlery shall not be re-used.
  • All beverages will be served in single-use disposable units.
  • Crew must wear a fresh set of gloves for each meal/beverage service.
  • Staggered service of food among adjacent seats as far as possible.

The directive concludes that the amendments will come into effect from April 15th. The provisions will also be ‘reviewed on a regular basis and necessary modification(s) would be carried out on the basis of inputs from the experts.

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India battles a surge in COVID cases

The Indian government has taken these steps in the face of a sharp surge in COVID cases across the country. India is currently experiencing its worst wave of cases since the pandemic began, overtaking Brazil for the second spot behind the United States in COVID cases.

After initially banning meals and refreshments at the beginning of the pandemic, India allowed airlines to resume serving meals in August. However, as the country battles ‘the increasing threat of COVID-19 and its variants’, authorities have decided in-flight meals pose a major risk.

India Masks Flight
India has seen a sharp rise in COVID cases since March. Photo: Getty Images

Sanjiv Kapoor, former Chief Strategy and Commercial Officer at Vistara tweeted about the new directive,

“The revenue loss will be a small sacrifice relative to the reduction of COVID risk. A huge loophole will finally be plugged. For longer flights, meals can be staggered so not all masks are off at the same time.”

Thailand adopts a similar policy

The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has implemented a similar policy, banning all in-flight meals on domestic flights. Thailand’s new directive will come into force tomorrow (April 13th) and enforces a range of restrictions, including a ban on reading materials and duty-free sales.

Indian Government Instructs Airlines To Restrict Meal Offerings
Thai airlines will need to enforce various safety measures under the new order. Photo: Getty Images

Reading materials like newspapers, magazines, or pamphlets will no longer be distributed onboard flights, other than materials related to safety practices. Passengers will not be allowed to eat or drink their own food and beverages on flights either. Souvenirs and duty-free products will also no longer be on sale in-flight.

Airlines will need to follow other guidelines under the new order, including installing infrared thermal scanners for passengers and staff and enforcing mask-wearing at all times. Additionally, on flights longer than 90 minutes, airlines must reserve the last two rows of seating to quarantine any passengers suspected of having the virus.

Do you think food and drink should be banned on flights? Let us know what you think in the comments.