Why Are Airlines Still Serving Meals With Covers?

Why Are Airlines Still Serving Meals With Covers?

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It goes without saying that this is totally minor in the grand scheme of things, but two years into the pandemic I think it’s a fair question to ask, especially for us airline product geeks.

Why are airlines still covering food?

Around the start of the pandemic we saw airlines completely rethink their approach to service, as we didn’t really know how coronavirus spread. However, over the course of the past couple of years we’ve learned a lot. What I find strange is that in many cases airlines haven’t updated their policies much to reflect what we’ve learned.

Case in point, what is it with so many airlines still serving meals fully covered, including in business class? We’ve learned that surface contact and food handling isn’t a significant way that coronavirus spreads. Yet so many airlines love to serve meals with each individual dish covered.

Turkish Airlines business class meal

A few thoughts:

  • Is this about optics, and making people feel like the food is safe, or is this a function of making service easier for crews, so they don’t even have to take the covers off dishes?
  • The annoying thing is that you have to take off all the covers (and in some cases there’s sauce and other stuff on them), and then there’s rarely a place to put them… it can be a mess
  • The logic here is also highly inconsistent, because crews will often serve every dish covered, but then place the items from the bread basket directly onto the plastic packaging of other dishes (and the top of a plastic covering is less hygienic than a plate)

To be clear, not all airlines are doing this, and some airlines I’ve flown have asked passengers if they want the covers removed (which I think is fair). I just don’t get why this is a standard thing at some airlines at all, at least in a premium cabin.

Iberia business class meal

And what is it with crews wearing gloves?

While we’re on the topic of airline coronavirus practices that I don’t understand…

If flight attendants want to wear gloves while picking up trash, I totally get it. But it seems that many airlines require (or at least strongly encourage) flight attendants to wear gloves while providing service throughout the flight, and personally I find this to be kind of gross:

  • Gloves serve a purpose if you’re performing one specific duty, and then get rid of them; but I’ve seen flight attendants use the same gloves for helping passengers with bags, refreshing the toilets, and serving food & drinks
  • If the goal were to minimize the spread of germs (or whatever), it would make a lot more sense to simply frequently wash or sanitize your hands

Again, I’m not saying flight attendants shouldn’t be allowed to wear gloves while performing some parts of the service. But I also don’t get why some airlines seem to mandate this for flight attendants, and then gloves are rarely changed.

Do gloves make you feel any safer?

Bottom line

We’ve learned a lot about how coronavirus spreads over the past couple of years, though it seems that airlines haven’t updated their policies much to reflect that. For example, I find it strange how many airlines continue to serve dishes covered (especially in premium cabins), even though that’s not a material risk when it comes to coronavirus. Rather it just creates a mess.

Where do you stand on airlines serving meals covered — yay or nay?

Conversations (60)
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  1. marcelo Guest

    i like the meals covered as i sometimes keep something to eat later on and i also may keep a souvenier dish for home use i like them if they have a top on them.

  2. For Real Guest

    The food serving trays/dishes are covered initily because that provides for a more efficient method of getting them reheated.

    That holds true for most Economy meals and some upper class cabin meals as well. The remaining meals (mostly upper class cabin meals) are "assembled" when they are being served into dishes that aren't designed to be covered!

  3. Roger Guest

    Just returned from a round trip Singapore Airlines business class flight from Brisbane to Zurich. The FAs wore gloves, face masks and glasses. I saw them frequently using hand sanitiser on their gloves. And the food was covered. Staying at the transit hotel at Changi Airport, the employees all wore full PPE including gowns, face masks, face shields, glasses and gloves taped at the wrist. Is this the "new normal"? Maybe.

  4. SE Guest

    I'm okay with the covered food, and airlines have been serving covered food all the time in economy. What I'm not okay with is the much more cumbersome masks, which are supposed to protect one from COVID transmission, magically, until your food arrives, and then you don't have to wear a mask because of the steak served in front of you.

    I'll take covered food over a mask.

    1. For Real Guest

      No, it's not magically....

      When you reduce the amount of time someone is breathing without a mask you reduce the viral content in the air. Making it less likely for others to catch a virus that is in that air.

      And so the steak in front of you has nothing to do with it either!

    2. SE Guest

      I'm sorry, "reduce the viral content in the air" in a virus that is aerosolised and so goes through all masks bar properly fitted N95 masks is really quite a stretch, particularly when one unmasks to eat. I'm calling it what it is: security theatre.

    3. Lee Guest

      Statistics and probability are something you need to understand and study. Time of exposure is a discrete event and cumulative exposure overall increases risk and probability of catching virus if it's circulating.

  5. Mangiafica Guest

    The twisting of the word "optics" and its misuse in substituting for the word "appearances" absolutely infuriates me. I'd like to find whoever first made this mistake and stamp on their skull repeatedly.

  6. JauntyJet Guest

    Covers were used well before Covid to protect from coughs and sneezes from both passengers and crew. Think about sitting in the window seat in economy when your seatmate sneezes as food is being passed to you.

    I would also think that meal covers would help prevent spill if the FA is jostled, or the plane hits unexpected turbulence during meal service. I don't want any portion of my meal landing in my lap.

  7. SeeSharp Member

    Lucky, please do not pay attention to the people in comments who consider your article "out of touch" and consider this whining or complaining.
    You are right to call out the flawed logic that is behind some of the health and safety theater. These measures at best do nothing to stop disease spread and at worst give people a false sense of security while not encouraging them to take actually beneficial steps (like washing...

    Lucky, please do not pay attention to the people in comments who consider your article "out of touch" and consider this whining or complaining.
    You are right to call out the flawed logic that is behind some of the health and safety theater. These measures at best do nothing to stop disease spread and at worst give people a false sense of security while not encouraging them to take actually beneficial steps (like washing hands).
    Your contributions will help us avoid getting stuck in a "hygiene obsession" for the next decade instead of keeping only those measures that are both practical and effective.

  8. Lgeo Guest

    You have too much common sense. Yes I agree with every one of your points. So much of this pandemic has been about optics and making people “feel safe”and not science based. Drives me crazy as an RN. And YES - it would be far better to wash or hand sanitizer use, than to wear those disgusting gloves. They are supposed to be one time use only!!

  9. Outrageous fortune Guest

    This might be a champagne problem - for those of us who usually sit in economy, those lids have been there since well before the pandemic. I definitely said "yikes" out loud when reading this post at how out of touch it felt.

  10. Duh Guest

    Did you just discover air travel?! This has been around for DECADES!!!! The lid is not for Covid lol.

  11. Mak Guest

    Absolutely correct, and just as worthwhile to ask why we're still wearing masks. Incredible to me that some airlines are still forcing cabin crew to wear hospital gowns on board!

  12. Santastico Guest

    And how about masks? If it is safe for the State of Union be held without masks why do we need to still wear them on airports and planes? Isn’t it clear that filtration systems on planes are the best? Follow the science.

  13. Emily Guest

    I prefer the food to be covered. Covid and other viruses, when ingested, can also cause GI issues. I’d prefer my food cane virus free. I’m okay with the covers. Having said that, I rarely dine in flight because I find food in the air to be horrid for my palate. I don’t fly for the food.

    Lastly, the FAs aren’t protecting you but protecting themselves by wearing gloves. Frankly it’s much more convenient and...

    I prefer the food to be covered. Covid and other viruses, when ingested, can also cause GI issues. I’d prefer my food cane virus free. I’m okay with the covers. Having said that, I rarely dine in flight because I find food in the air to be horrid for my palate. I don’t fly for the food.

    Lastly, the FAs aren’t protecting you but protecting themselves by wearing gloves. Frankly it’s much more convenient and practical for them than to have to sanitise their hands all the time for their safety.

    1. SN Guest

      The irony is that people wear gloves to protect themselves but many rub their eyes with the gloved hands. LOL

  14. Madge Guest

    Palmolive softens hands while you do dishes!
    You're soaking in it!

    1. Allen Member

      Yep, the username checks out.

  15. Endre Guest

    To be honest, I feel safer with the covers on the food. I just wish cabin crew would come by a few minutes after serving the tray and pick up the then removed covers.

    1. Mak Guest

      Everybody is entitled to their own "feelings," but not to impose them upon others arbitrarily. Cabin rules shouldn't be dictated by the most irrationally fearful passengers on the plane.

  16. Kair New Member

    I think meals were always covered even before COVID and it didnt bother me then, it doesn't bother me now.
    Gloves can be useful if used correctly where frequent hand washing is not possible.
    Now any thoughts on paper toilet covers?

  17. Frank Guest

    Your statement about not knowing how Covid is spread is false.
    We do know that it is airborne and that the main form of spread is airbore…breathing in saliva particles in the air that contain the virus. So if you want to be sure that your food has not been exposed then this is just but one way to make sure.
    It’s disappointing to see this type of article when the science behind...

    Your statement about not knowing how Covid is spread is false.
    We do know that it is airborne and that the main form of spread is airbore…breathing in saliva particles in the air that contain the virus. So if you want to be sure that your food has not been exposed then this is just but one way to make sure.
    It’s disappointing to see this type of article when the science behind it has not been fully researched before publishing.
    Everybody wants to get back to “Normal” but there that normal is gone for good. The pandemic is NOT over anD to think and act like it is foolish.

    1. Ted Guest

      Frank, you’re completely wrong. This HAS been researched with CDC guidance provided a LONG time ago. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/newsletter/food-safety-and-Coronavirus.html
      You can’t catch Covid from food. Please stop enabling brainless hygiene theater.

  18. Brian G. Member

    I agree with the overall theme of your post, there is almost no risk of COVID-19 thru surface contact. But I do like covers, as sometimes I like eating slowly over time and it keeps my mean warn. I would have them to a more premium look, maybe gold color foil.

  19. John Guest

    I believe FAs sanitize their hands over their gloves just as they don't wear one. Using sanitizer too frequently on hands could cause skin problems. At least that's what I heard from people who work in service industries.

  20. Steve Diamond

    Remember when everyone thought hand sanitizer stopped the spread of covid, haha, fun times.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      And you stock up 10 years worth of TP.

  21. DenB Diamond

    The vast majority of people incorrectly believe that gloves are a net gain in food hygeine. They see gloves on a hand and they subconsciously think "protection". They're wrong. But airlines learn quick when they get multiple complaints "she's not even wearing gloves! OMG haven't you heard there's a pandemic? From the carrier's perspective, it's easier to meet the customer where he is, than to change his mind from delusion to clarity.

  22. LarryInNYC Diamond

    The increasing emphasis on this kind of hygiene long predates Covid. It was several decades ago that buffets introduced the "new plate" rule, followed by clear guards between you and the food. Before the pandemic I routinely would see people wipe down their entire seating area on an airplane with alcohol wipes.

    For better or worse, a substantial portion of the population is highly (to me, overly) concerned with hygiene. There's a prominent points and...

    The increasing emphasis on this kind of hygiene long predates Covid. It was several decades ago that buffets introduced the "new plate" rule, followed by clear guards between you and the food. Before the pandemic I routinely would see people wipe down their entire seating area on an airplane with alcohol wipes.

    For better or worse, a substantial portion of the population is highly (to me, overly) concerned with hygiene. There's a prominent points and miles blogger who apparently lives in fear that any large bottle of toiletries in a hotel room will have been adulterated with bodily fluids from the previous occupant. And this blog also goes on the occasional rant about people who go barefoot on planes.

    Is it surprising that businesses would opt to take the most conservative approach to making customers comfortable?

  23. shoeguy Guest

    Why all the whining about it? Most, if not all of that food comes with the cover when loaded onto the plane from catering. I prefer knowing my plate was not exposed if it didn't need to be. As to crews wearing gloves, many have done it long before COVID when collecting trash and cleaning up trays. People are generally gross and why wouldn't you want to put some protection between you and a passenger?...

    Why all the whining about it? Most, if not all of that food comes with the cover when loaded onto the plane from catering. I prefer knowing my plate was not exposed if it didn't need to be. As to crews wearing gloves, many have done it long before COVID when collecting trash and cleaning up trays. People are generally gross and why wouldn't you want to put some protection between you and a passenger? People may whine and whimper about face masks and align their political thinking on them, and waste plenty of energy doing it, but I intend to continue wearing masks on planes regardless.

  24. AMC Guest

    To your point, Ben, I feel like flight attendants aren’t able to change gloves in between tasks. They could be wiping down the galley to serving food to making a passenger’s bed.

    When I worked in restaurants, I had been trained that gloves give a false sense of security. For example, a cook could be handling raw chicken then mixing up a salad then plating everything.

    I’d personally rather have the covers than gloves.

  25. Al Guest

    Wow, unbelievable that you are even complaining about this. Is it that hard to peel off the cover? SMH. I welcome having a cover to protect a cough, sneeze...etc.

  26. smc Guest

    In terms of the gloves, when I used to work in restaurants, one warning that people had when teaching us hygiene and sanitation rules is that gloves give you a false sense of security.

    For example, one may not realize they just handled raw chicken before when grabbing a bowl to mix a salad in. In most cases, you cannot wash your gloves/ hands and it’s much more practical to just use your hands to handle food and wash them at every time you change foods.

  27. Txrus Guest

    At this point, It’s cootie theater perpetuated by Sara Nelson who is still PO’d that her members couldn’t work from home…

  28. JB Guest

    I'm assuming you flew from Oman to Istanbul to Copenhagen on Turkish Airlines, with the second flight reviewing their new 737 MAX business class, and then flying SAS back to MIA as your fun routing as you said in an earlier post :)

  29. Dominic Kivni Guest

    Pretty sure it's to convey a sense of cleanliness. Tim Clark, President of Emirates, recently said in an interview "American passengers want to see a single-use plastic cup wrapped in plastic to make sure it's hygenic" or something along those lines...

    1. DenB Diamond

      Only America could invent the toilet seat cover.

  30. Khatl Diamond

    Definitely just conveying a sense of safety and security that most people believe as they don't know (and/or don't care to know) the actual science. Happens in all walks of life

  31. DaninMCI Guest

    You realize that the food comes on the plane with the covers in place to protect it, even before covid. I guess I'd rather the FA take the cover off when they hand it to me but it's not that big of a deal. Heck, some airlines still don't have full catering back yet.

  32. Aaron Guest

    This is purely optics and hygiene theater. It's a relatively cheap practice and does not require a significant extra labor commitment, but it does provides a huge (albeit misguided) sense of security from the pax.

    One other note on the gloves, how about providing different sizes for the crews, instead of a one size fits all approach? On a recent flight, I saw a petite FA wearing gloves that were practically falling off her...

    This is purely optics and hygiene theater. It's a relatively cheap practice and does not require a significant extra labor commitment, but it does provides a huge (albeit misguided) sense of security from the pax.

    One other note on the gloves, how about providing different sizes for the crews, instead of a one size fits all approach? On a recent flight, I saw a petite FA wearing gloves that were practically falling off her hands. And I could see that it was actually cumbersome for her to perform some tasks wearing those XL gloves.

    1. Ted Guest

      And also horrible for the environment if all of that plastic is going straight to the landfill. And all just to provide passengers with a patently false sense of security? If you’re that uneducated and that scared, just don’t eat the potentially “Covid-contaminated” food!

  33. Thomas Christoffersen Guest

    Nay to covers, Covid dont spread through food anyways so it makes Zero sense
    Gloves should also be a no go, but frequently hand sanitizing is a yay

    1. Pete Diamond

      Precovid I didn’t want people coughing on my food, but now I guess you’re ok with it?

    2. DenB Diamond

      "sanitizing" with anti-BACTERIAL (rarely anti-viral) goop, with a half-dozen more brands found carcinogenic just last month? was silly at the outset and now more silly. the kill kill kill mentality is more toxic than the thing everyone wants killed.

  34. tda1986 Guest

    I really don’t see this as being too different from room service coming covered, though space and waste can be more of a concern when flying. On airplanes, I prefer when hot dishes are covered in foil—it crumples up small and is recyclable. Even in business class, with many cabins having dozens of passengers, it can unfortunately be a while from heating to service.

    1. DenB Diamond

      I want my food served hot, with no packaging whatsoever. I don't want to handle garbage, find a place for it, crumple and tear it, get the sauce on my fingers, from the inside of the foil, rearrange the plates to make room for the wrapper on the straw, the wrapper from the cutlery, the cover for the salad, etc etc etc. No packaging. I am not afraid someone tampered with my food. I am...

      I want my food served hot, with no packaging whatsoever. I don't want to handle garbage, find a place for it, crumple and tear it, get the sauce on my fingers, from the inside of the foil, rearrange the plates to make room for the wrapper on the straw, the wrapper from the cutlery, the cover for the salad, etc etc etc. No packaging. I am not afraid someone tampered with my food. I am not afraid the FA has taken against me and has spit in my carrot soup. In this context , the fear is a choice. If you choose fear, you derive no benefit compared to my approach and arguably I'm enjoying my meal more. Unless it's got wrapping all over it, in which case you feel "protected" and I'm moody LOL

    2. tda1986 Guest

      Not sure how any of that was responsive to my post, which said nothing about “protecting” anything. Seems like someone is a bit triggered… I’m sorry that I didn’t realize saucy fingers caused such PTSD.

      In any event, good luck getting your food served hot on a plane if it’s just sitting around uncovered, which was my main point.

  35. Pete Diamond

    If we want to do away with masking, then I would actually prefer to be served with my food tray covered. COVID or not.
    Sorry if your “La Premiere” experience is ruined because of this.

  36. derek Guest

    Yea, not nay. You can put the cover under the plate.

    1. Thomas Christoffersen Guest

      But why would you want the covers in the first place?

  37. Kevin Guest

    I was at a Hyatt Place last week and they were making everyone put on gloves in order to use the breakfast buffet.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Not sure why anyone would see that as a bad idea. Covid isn't the only malady in existence... and quite frankly, can't tell ya how many times I've seen a kid (or even adult) rub/pick at their nose, then grab a buffet spoon 5seconds later. It's one of the off-putting things about buffets. DEFINITELY appreciate the ones that offer gloves!

    2. John Guest

      @ConcordPerson

      Then you should stay at a better class of hotel instead of your usual nose-pickers joint.

  38. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Guest

    Presumably wearing gloves protects the staff, even if it doesn’t impact the customers (or maybe it does?)

  39. Alonzo Diamond

    It's all optics. And extremely wasteful to boot. The perception is that covering food and gloves make people "feel" more safe. Let's be honest, people perceive their personal hygiene and home cleanliness to be top notch. The reality is that, it's not.

    1. Scudder Diamond

      I'm not sure it's really any more wasteful than normal, pre-rona service, where the covers on dishes would still exist, but be removed in the galley.

    2. Alonzo Diamond

      I could be wrong but I thought the covers from before were washable instead of disposable.

    3. lasdiner Guest

      Alonzo is 100%
      gloves, cover lids, etc add nothing to real safety, but mostly enhance the perceptions of it for some who are particularly concerned
      We don’t live in a sterile environment so, time to deal with lack of a sterile perception. For those who call out Lucky and others for this, its not a first world problem to want food presented as would one have it normally at home or at a...

      Alonzo is 100%
      gloves, cover lids, etc add nothing to real safety, but mostly enhance the perceptions of it for some who are particularly concerned
      We don’t live in a sterile environment so, time to deal with lack of a sterile perception. For those who call out Lucky and others for this, its not a first world problem to want food presented as would one have it normally at home or at a restaurant: that is, not in plastic. Don’t forget the visual part is a large portion of the sensory eating experience. If you feel safe seeing plastic, I am afraid the problem is not ‘us others in La Premiere’

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Pete Diamond

If we want to do away with masking, then I would actually prefer to be served with my food tray covered. COVID or not. Sorry if your “La Premiere” experience is ruined because of this.

4
Al Guest

Wow, unbelievable that you are even complaining about this. Is it that hard to peel off the cover? SMH. I welcome having a cover to protect a cough, sneeze...etc.

2
DaninMCI Guest

You realize that the food comes on the plane with the covers in place to protect it, even before covid. I guess I'd rather the FA take the cover off when they hand it to me but it's not that big of a deal. Heck, some airlines still don't have full catering back yet.

2
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