Lufthansa Cuts Free Food & Drinks In Economy, Introduces Buy On Board

Filed Under: Austrian, Lufthansa

Well, I guess this is about as good of a time as any to make a negative change that was probably going to happen eventually anyway…

Buy on board coming to Lufthansa in 2021

It has just been announced that in the near future, Lufthansa, SWISS, and Austrian will eliminate free food and drinks in short and medium haul economy, instead replacing this with a buy on board menu. This won’t apply in business class, and won’t apply in long haul economy.

The airline group will be taking a phased approach towards this being introduced, starting in the spring of 2021. Austrian will eliminate free food & drinks first, followed by SWISS and Lufthansa.

The airline group claims that the buy on board selection, preparation, and presentation will use “high quality standards,” and that there will be more of an investment in sustainability, by selecting environmentally friendly products and packaging.

Will Lufthansa’s onboard catering look this good? And that’s an excellent manicure…

Will any food & drinks be free anymore?

In the coming months the individual airlines will reveal their updated product offerings. It’s stated that on Lufthansa and SWISS there will still be a complimentary water bottle for passengers, while on Austrian everything will have to be purchased.

While minor, I’m also curious to see if SWISS stops offering each passenger a free chocolate, which has been a tradition on the airline for years.

Austrian will be the first of the three airlines to introduce buy on board

This has probably been in the works for years

It’s pretty clear the airline group was already headed in this direction, and this would have happened eventually regardless:

  • In 2017, British Airways introduced buy on board catering in short haul economy, setting the precedent for “full service” airlines in Europe
  • In 2018, SWISS conducted a trial out of Geneva, whereby catering in short haul economy was only available for purchase

SWISS had already conducted a buy on board trial

Doesn’t this increase contact points?

I can’t help but feel like the timing of this seems a bit backwards in terms of coronavirus. Obviously airlines are in a bad financial situation and are looking to cut costs and increase revenue.

But isn’t travel right now also about minimizing contact? If so, isn’t having flight attendants spending more time in the aisle processing payments increasing touch points and interaction?

Processing purchases increases passenger contact

This is due to customer feedback… lol

I love how a Lufthansa Group executive describes this change:

“Our current snack offer in Economy Class does not always meet the expectations of our guests. The new offer was developed on the basis of feedback from our customers. With the high-quality offer available for purchase, our passengers will be able to decide what they want to eat and drink on their journey.”

Look, I get that most companies aren’t going to be particularly honest in press releases when they make negative changes. That’s also why I think there’s no point in quoting executives with announcements like this, because the only honest thing to say is “meh, well we’re losing a ton of money and we think we can get away with this, so tough luck.”

But instead Lufthansa quotes an executive who claims:

  • Lufthansa is eliminating free food & drinks because the free selection hasn’t met the expectation of guests
  • The introduction of buy on board is due to customer feedback

Right. I’d like to talk to the person who said “the Diet Coke is fine, I just don’t like how it’s free.”

Also, fair enough, but it’s funny to me how Lufthansa published another press release seven minutes after publishing this one, so it wouldn’t be the first story on the Lufthansa news page.

Customers have apparently been asking for less

Bottom line

As of spring 2021, Lufthansa, SWISS, and Austrian, will be eliminating free food & drinks in economy on short and medium haul flights. Lufthansa and SWISS will still offer free water, while Austrian won’t offer anything for free.

Unfortunately I can’t say I’m surprised by this change, as this is something that was under consideration even pre-pandemic. There really is no difference nowadays in Europe between “full” service airlines and ultra low cost carriers.

Are you surprised to see the Lufthansa Group switch to a buy on board model in economy?

  1. So, the lounge at my airport will be permanently closed, drinks aren’t free anymore and the flights are double than LCCs. Not really sure what reason is left to pay the premium.

  2. Medium haul is within Europe , Turkey Israel , ( western ) Russia, Jordan and North Africa

    The majority of people can manage without food for 2-4 hours.

    Just offer water.

    Conversely , BA offer a complimentary snack bag presently.

    Although not everyone pays cheap fares , if the basic fare excluding tax from say Frankfurt – tel aviv return was €75 bring your own food.

    The cost airlines would allow for a complimentary economy medium haul “meal” would be around €2

  3. At Lufthansa Group it’s always the customers asking for reductions in service in exchange for a higher price. I think it’s the only airline group where customers are asking for that.

  4. @Icarus: Where are the 75 EUR fares FRA to TLV? Closest I’m seeing is more than double that.

    Also, sounds like Austrian is not offering water.

    Would love to see you working at a hotel. “Sir, the shower may not be working, but you’re only staying for a night. You should be able to go 15 hours without a shower.” :p

  5. Isn’t there some irony in offering ‘sustainable options and packaging’ and then offering all customers a water bottle? Couldn’t they use canned water or water in non-plastic packaging instead?

    LH economy within Europe is already a pretty miserable experience. Annoying downgrade, but it’s not like LH was a great experience to begin with.

  6. I thought Swiss had already stopped free food and drink in economy? I stopped flying them because of it and will now do the same with Lufthansa.
    European legacy airlines need to improve their service levels not reduce them. Otherwise they will go the way of FlyBE and the rest. A sandwich and a can of German beer surely isn’t costing them much.

  7. @Ben: BA did not pioneer BOB. Both Iberia and SAS introduced this several years before BA.

    @Michael: Lol – it’s not only Lufthansa who claim customer feedback as a way to implement “enhancements”. Look at the BA forum on FlyerTalk for instance. The new excuse now is COVID-19, while the real reason is cost savings (which does make sense when the airline industry is losing billions). SAS even bans passengers bringing anything more than light snacks onboard. Imagine a five hour flight to the Canary Islands with nothing more than crisps or chocolate, especially if you’re travelling with children.

  8. Cabin crew will soon start selling lottery tickets and promote the latest co-branded credit cards over the PA three times during a flight. Oh, wait. That’s what you get in the US. Silly me.

  9. “There really is no difference nowadays in Europe between “full” service airlines and ultra low cost carriers.”

    Ahmmm The price, maby?

    And then take in to account, that it is “easier” to get a refund from a low cost carrier then Swiss these days, or any day I reckon.
    But still you get a free bottle of water.

    Well, times has definitely changed and I think we will see some more of these so called enhancements across the board, in European aviation.

    As many business travellers in Europe only fly economy, for good reason! And make up their status on segments or long haul flights.
    I’m sure If they could, we might even see some kind of point system, for elites to enter lounges in Europe?
    So that the airlines could exclude low revenue passengers.
    I have no ide how they would do it though.

  10. Besides the strikingly obvious marketing pitch of “based on customer feedback”, I take another issue with the press release: The focus on the food quality is essentially a red herring.

    Everybody knows that (apart from a few longish and/or highly competitive routes) the food in LHG’s short-haul eco is nothing to write home about. So you’re not taking away much and can somewhat credibly promise higher-quality meals and snacks for purchase.

    HOWEVER: If you ever worked in the hospitality industry in Europe, you’ll know that all the profit comes from the beverages as opposed to the food.
    I think this is what BoB is targeting. On a flight from Germany to Mallorca, you could get two beers for free. Now it gonna be like EUR 8 or EUR 10.

    That’s the real loss. Plus the hassle. On a quick flight such as ZRH-FRA, are they even gonna be able to get to the last row given the time the processing of payment takes? And if they do, you got like two minutes to finish your drink?

  11. Honestly I have always stuck with Lufthansa for intra-European flights because they still offer a nice product. They are the only one, who still serve a warm meal from Germany to Lisbon.

    Now I am just going to fly whatever the cheapest. Easyjet is actually not bad and I can buy an extra legroom seat. Their priority product is recently priced. With this move, it will just push more people to fly LCC.

  12. This is just hilarious… I worked for Brussels Airlines for a number of years and remember those meetings in Frankfurt and Zurich where I was told over and over that buy-on-board was something they would never even consider as it would kill their brands all together.
    I find it very unfortunate to see free catering go, but at least now customers will be able to compare the LCC and the “traditional” carriers 1-on-1……. and reinforce the customer value proposition of Ryanair.

  13. @Ben your analogy is ridiculous.

    Unlike a hotel where a bathroom / shower is included, food is not part of the contract when you buy an air ticket . Airlines are under no obligation to provide it.

    If elite status customers can eat in the lounge , if they are sitting in economy they can manage without a second meal / snack for 2-3 hours.

    Remember , this is short flights and not long haul.

  14. @ Icarus — What analogy are you talking about? Where did I say they are under obligation to provide food and drinks, or that it’s part of the contract?

  15. @lucky
    It’s not you he’s talking about, it’s another Ben in the comments who posted this:

    “Where are the 75 EUR fares FRA to TLV? Closest I’m seeing is more than double that.

    Also, sounds like Austrian is not offering water.

    Would love to see you working at a hotel. “Sir, the shower may not be working, but you’re only staying for a night. You should be able to go 15 hours without a shower.” :p”

  16. @ Hotel Sierra Kilo — My apologies (and also to Icarus), I need to get better about reading what’s written on OMAAT. :p

  17. …before, everybody was complaining that paying the extra for LH intra-europe business class is not worth it. Well, there you go!

  18. For drinks its bullshit, but for the food… yea I can understand that they just don’t bother with handing out the tiny wrap and if you are realy hungry you can buy some.

  19. “Contact points” aren’t really seen as a huge deal in Europe, at least not in the way they are in the US. Most authorities advise is that the virus is spread mostly person-to-person, not via contamined surfaces.

    Personally, I prefer BOB for food. I will much rather select and buy something I want (size-wise and type-wise) than having a free bag of peanuts. From my perspective, I’m not really losing anything, while I’m gaining an option to purchase stuff on board.

    Drinks are another matter, those should remain free, maybe except beer/wine.

  20. You know why there is no difference between full service airlines, and ultra low cost? Because of the customer. They cant care less what’s given onboard, as long as the seats is Rick bottom in price. Nobody is gonna chose a higher ticket price on an airlines just because a free snacks, and a drink. So airlines are just given what is been demanded.

  21. Hygiene Procedures – completely LACKING !!!
    Procedure: Flight Attendant handing out food/drink to Pax 1 – then receiving cash/credit card/etc. (FULL of bacteria/various viruses!) – then handing it back to Pax 1; then reaching into food/drinks trolley to serve Pax 2; it could NOT be a more UN-hygienic process! – It seems the Lufthansa Group cost cutters have completely FAILED to take HYGIENE aspects into consideration! (on a recent SWISS long haul flight the crew handled it correctly: Wearing gloves when handing out the drinks/food and strictly NOT touching/receiving anything from passengers; then AFTER service for ALL the pax was completed, collecting things.

  22. The airline and its subsidiaries, Eurowings, Swiss, Austrian and Brussels Airlines, are cutting their schedules, fleet and staff, with air travel not expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels before 2025.

  23. So now it’s fair to say that US Legacy carriers offer a more attractive product in both Y and J on North American flights. Granted, the FAs are rude and the passengers a bit less civilized, but you get better seats in J and at least free soft drinks in Y.

  24. The Swiss trial was successful, and they’re currently doing buy on board exclusively out of Geneva (called Swiss Saveurs). Living in Geneva I’ve used this many times and you still get a small bottle of water and chocolate in economy. In business class you can choose anything off the buy on board menu. I imagine this is what will be used for the wider group.

  25. LH is fast becoming, the famous Skytrax 5* airline with a sustainable wrapped Bob…..Passenger approved of course!
    Lol 😉

    Think about that 5* airline with Bob….

  26. Only when skimming through for the second time, I stumbled upon this little remark:

    Right. I’d like to talk to the person who said “the Diet Coke is fine, I just don’t like how it’s free.”


  27. I’d say LCCs are better than full service carriers because it’s all based on what you pay, not status.

    A paid seat in the exit row is considerably cheaper on U2 than BA, I’ve found. Probably because they need to save some freebies for the status folks, so stick the kettles with larger charges.

    All told I really have zero reason not to fly EasyJet over BA, Lufthansa, etc. as an occasional flyer in Europe. The miles are piddling, and if you couldn’t care less about status… just let me pay for what I want.

  28. There is no longer any difference to Easyjet … other than Easyjet is more reliable (i.e. ontime performance) …

  29. Such changes are a great way of cost cutting, people initially are complaining, then they get used to it. Savings remain + you can upsell “premium” f&b. Same thing with luggage and contract lounge access.
    And covid is a bullshit excuse – they would have done it anyways. Look at LOT – they have recently enlarged their offer of free snacks&drinks in Y onboard intra-EU flights. Crews were protesting (contact points, social distancing, blah blah blah…), but they got replaced by those that were not reluctant to fly and provide improved service.

  30. @Ralph

    Your use of so many CAPITALS in your post remind me of the tweets of some American politician whose name I can’t remember…

  31. Have the Lufthansa European business class seats been retrofitted on A320 and A321 aircraft? Used to be the same as economy seat with center seat open.

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