Criticism of SIA food fuelled by unmet expectations over “world class” branding, travelers say
SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines is bringing back some elements of its in-flight dining experience, such as appetizers for economy class meals. This comes after the airline got flak for the food it has been serving since travel picked up after the pandemic.
In recent months, some netizens have given the thumbs down to the national carrier for its economy class meals, with a paper service-ware trial in March igniting discussion around the airline’s food presentation. Then in April, a thread on online forum Reddit further called into question the “downgraded” food quality in SIA’s economy class.
Amid heightened complaints, SIA reported a record annual profit of S$2.16
billion (US$1.63 billion) earlier this month – which only seemed to fan the flames. Social media reactions to the news highlighted the perceived disparity between the airline’s profit and food standards, with several calling for “better quality meals with classier packaging” and “all the other pre-pandemic perks”.
In response to criticism that the perceived decline in food standards is due to cost-cutting measures, the airline said it has not reduced its budget. The spokesperson said SIA’s current budget for in-flight meals is about 20 per cent higher than that for the 2019/2020 financial year, even though the airline expects that its capacity will be lower than that year. Still, the crux of the criticism lies in unmet expectations, said frequent flyers of SIA.
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For a start, SIA’s premium branding is a double-edged sword, said Mr Aaron Wong, founder of The Milelion, a Singapore-based online resource for travel miles and points. “SIA has arguably made a rod for their own backs with the whole ‘Welcome to World Class’ campaign. Because people are always going to beat you with that stick,” the 35-year-old told CNA, referring to the airline’s latest global brand campaign rolled out in January.
“It’s always been a hallmark of SIA to offer something that is really a cut above everyone else – and they have been brilliant at that for a very long time. But the flip side is that once you cut back, people will notice.”
Food and travel blogger Laurence Foo, who has reviewed SIA’s food offerings, pointed out that “it’s now clear that the food offerings and presentation are headed in the direction of other airlines, instead of forging its own identity, whilst still raising prices. And the value proposition is no longer there, not to mention (there is) a slight degradation of service.”
Echoing similar sentiments about unfulfilled expectations, Mr Fairuz Sallim, who founded travel hacks blog Suitesmile, suggested that the “problem” may not actually be the food. Instead, the airfare that passengers pay sets their expectations.
“Expectations are high when a customer is paying two to three times more than other airlines. It’s probably fair that they get disappointed when the high expectations are not met … The reality is, many full-service airlines are serving better food while charging less,” he said. While complaints about airline food are nothing new, frustrated SIA passengers have become “a lot more vocal”, Mr Wong observed.
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He cited the removal of several items over time – hot towels, the appetizer and fruits course in an economy class meal, and even paper menus that economy class passengers used to receive – that “chipped away around the edges”.
And for all his criticism, food and travel blogger Mr Foo still believes SIA has “maintained its edge” over the competition – although this, he said, is “an ever decreasing one”.
a) In response to the media coverage and online backlash surrounding Singapore Airlines’ declining in-flight services, propose a strategy for the company to effectively communicate to key stakeholders.
b) Going forward, recommend how Singapore Airlines can prepare for future public complaints given that the company will be constantly reforming their business model, and that this may result in changes to services and amenities that may not always be well- received by customers.
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