KLM Reducing Food Waste With Artificial Intelligence

KLM Reducing Food Waste With Artificial Intelligence

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KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has revealed the details of a new initiative it has implemented that significantly reduces food waste. I’m sure many people will find the concept behind this to be quite interesting.

KLM wasting less food by predicting loads

KLM is using a new program that better enables the airline to determine how many booked passengers will actually board a flight. In other words, the airline is predicting the number of people who will no show or misconnect on their itinerary, which is on average anywhere from 3-5% of booked passengers.

By doing this, the airline claims that this is leading to a 63% reduction in food waste, with an average of 2.5 fewer meals being thrown away per flight (representing 1.3 kilograms in weight). On an annual basis, this amounts to savings of more than 100,000 kilograms of meals.

The airline is making these predictions based on a new program named TRAYS, developed specifically for KLM’s catering activities. The system uses historical data to predict the number of passengers onboard, including in each individual cabin. Then the carrier’s catering system receives a forecast of the number of travelers who are expected to be onboard, all the way from 17 days until 20 minutes before the flight departs.

So this system not only impacts the number of meals that are prepared in the catering facility, but then also impacts the number of meals that are actually loaded, to prevent a surplus of meals. So at KLM’s facility in Amsterdam, I imagine that at the last minute some meals may be taken off the catering cart for a particular flight, based on these predictions.

Airlines have long adjusted catering based on the number of passengers booked on a flight, but it’s rarer to see a prediction of no shows factored into this calculation.

Here’s how KLM CEO Marjan Rintel describes this initiative:

“Investments in digital technology are a priority for KLM. The application of artificial intelligence contributes enormously to improving our flight operations and making them more sustainable. Combatting food waste is a good example of this, resulting in tens of thousands fewer meals being wasted on our flights each year.”

KLM is reducing food waste by predicting loads

My take on KLM’s food waste initiative

First of all, let me acknowledge that while this is of course technically artificial intelligence, it seems that just about everything is being marketed that way nowadays. I mean, this is a similar concept to the technology that airlines have been using for decades when deciding how much to oversell flights, but it’s only in recent years that we’re referring to any computer system as artificial intelligence. That’s neither here nor there, though…

Reducing food waste is of course in everyone’s best interest — wasted food serves no one, a lighter plane reduces fuel burn, and it also saves the airline money.

However, I think it’s also important to acknowledge the potential downside of catering fewer meals. Many airlines intentionally cater too many meals, so that more people can get their first choice of meals, in case someone isn’t happy with their meal, etc. When you try to cater to be exact, it’s common that you won’t get your first choice, since preferences aren’t consistent across flights. Admittedly this can largely be counteracted by allowing customers to pre-order meals.

I’m also curious how often this system leads to situations where someone ends up without a meal, due to a shortage. Is this system exclusively using historical data, or is this literally about an inbound flight being delayed to the point that it’s guaranteed people will misconnect, and then the catering is updated accordingly?

Passengers are less likely to get their first choice

Bottom line

KLM is reducing food waste by predicting the number of booked passengers who won’t make a flight. The airline claims that this new technology is resulting in an average of 2.5 fewer wasted meals per flight than before. While reducing waste is a good thing, fewer extra meals also means worse odds of getting your first choice.

What do you make of KLM’s initiative to reduce food waste?

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  1. nandini Guest

    Two meals not made at all is more financially beneficial than two meals "not wasted" by simply giving them away

  2. Christian Guest

    Works great until it doesn’t. I imagine the majority of the time people won’t notice anything, a sizable minority of the time some people will be stuck with what’s left, and in a few instances people will get nothing at all. For a full service airline, leaving some passengers without a meal isn’t a good look so I’d tread with caution if I was in charge of the program.

  3. John Guest

    'Artificial intelligence' and 'plant-based' are just two new pretentious marketing terms aimed at the gullible, for two very old concepts. So old in fact, that even actual Boomers born in the 40s(!) knew about them decades ago. Just say freakin' "computer program" and "greens and vegetables". *eye roll* Even Tim Dunn gets it.

  4. Samo Guest

    Instead of investing into pre-order system which would guarantee the first choice to everyone, they're investing into making sure fewer people get their first choice. Something to remember the next time you choose your business class flight...

  5. Frog Guest

    Moral of the story - don’t sit in the last row on a KLM flight.

  6. Matthew Guest

    Hi Ben,
    Have you heard about the new seperate status of FlyingBlue called Ultimate. Comes with 4 upgrade vouchers and some extra benefits. I think it would be great to develop that in an article.
    All the best!

    1. Icarus Guest

      It’s not new. Ultimate has been around a while, in addition to Club 2000 and Hiccocampe which is an even higher tier.

    2. Matthew Guest

      That's party true however Ultimate as a seperate status was introduced only Jan 2024, I believe. Before, it was Platinum Elite Ultimate which was 300XP if I am not mistaken, however now, Ultimate is a seperate tier with 900XP needed. Club2000 and Hiccocampe are different in the sense that they are invite only, and mostly by Air France. Correct me if I am wrong, however this is what I understand. Long gone are the days...

      That's party true however Ultimate as a seperate status was introduced only Jan 2024, I believe. Before, it was Platinum Elite Ultimate which was 300XP if I am not mistaken, however now, Ultimate is a seperate tier with 900XP needed. Club2000 and Hiccocampe are different in the sense that they are invite only, and mostly by Air France. Correct me if I am wrong, however this is what I understand. Long gone are the days when Platinum Elite for Life status meant often free upgrades on short/long haul flights....

  7. Jeff Guest

    Similar approaches to using "predictive analytics" have also been used/tested in quick service restaurant environments. You can predict with amazing accuracy, for example, how many hamburgers McDonald's store #12345 will sell tomorrow based on years worth of historical POS data.

  8. Andy Diamond

    I personally prefer the approach to let passengers select their choice ahead of time. On airlines that permit to do so, I always make selection.

  9. snic Diamond

    I misread the headline as "KLM Reducing Food Waste With Artificial Food."

    Which, in economy, is sorta true?

  10. steve64 Guest

    It's called Yeild Management (or Revenue Management at other airlines).

    In the mid 1980's I was a Gate AAgent. Back when the 727 ruled the skies, hot meals were still served in coach on most of the mid-cons out of DFW and we didn't have elite upgrades yet.

    Flights were rarely catered 'up' to the booking level. For discussion, it's important to note that AA broke a 'meal' into 2 components:
    - the 'setup'...

    It's called Yeild Management (or Revenue Management at other airlines).

    In the mid 1980's I was a Gate AAgent. Back when the 727 ruled the skies, hot meals were still served in coach on most of the mid-cons out of DFW and we didn't have elite upgrades yet.

    Flights were rarely catered 'up' to the booking level. For discussion, it's important to note that AA broke a 'meal' into 2 components:
    - the 'setup' ... tray, silverwear, salad & desert (the cold stuff)
    - the 'entree' (the hot stuff).

    A 727-200 had a capacity of F12 Y138. For a hypothetical flight, an example would be (and let's make it easy by saying no non-revs are expected):
    - F is booked to 10, I'd be catered with 12 setups and 9 entrees
    - Y is booked to 100, I'd be catered with 94 setups and 88 entrees.
    All as determined by Yield Management. In the 1980s. KLM is hardly cutting edge here.

    If you're interested...
    The concept seemed to be to have as many setups as YM thinks the pax count will be (but typically to capacity in First) and then under cater the entrees in case YM's expected count ended up higher than actual. We did have Shy Chef (AA's owned caterer) 'runners' in the terminal to top off any entree shortage. But yes, many times I'd close the door still under catered.

    1. KK13 Diamond

      Awesome! So, how did we go down from there to here?

    2. Fordamist LeDearn Guest

      ... who counted the macadamia nuts for AA's catering? Wasn't removing one from the tray part of Crandall's claims of genius?

  11. jnrfalcon Guest

    Just let people make their choice well in advance instead of holding that function exclusively for business class or not offering it at all... much cheaper than employing a AI.

    1. UncleRonnie Member

      Surely delivering to 200+ people in coach their meal choices - in specific seats - isn't practical? 15-20 special meals to passengers with dietary restrictions is doable, but not to everyone on board.

  12. atcsundevil Guest

    I haven't seen it on any of my itineraries, but apparently they're giving pax the option to opt out of meals in advance in exchange for a few XP. Given that they serve the same five wanderboxes causing me to pass on them almost every time, I guess it's smart. Just bore the shit out of people with the same food options for years, then entice them to opt out with points. Oh well.

  13. KK13 Diamond

    The best way to reduce food waste is not to serve crappy food. Less potion is okay, but try to serve good quality food, unlike most flights in the West.

    You don't need AI to get this! Learn from the flights in Asia how they care for the customers and the food. While I am not expecting a Michelin star quality, airlines should serve "some" quality.

    The last time I flew AA first...

    The best way to reduce food waste is not to serve crappy food. Less potion is okay, but try to serve good quality food, unlike most flights in the West.

    You don't need AI to get this! Learn from the flights in Asia how they care for the customers and the food. While I am not expecting a Michelin star quality, airlines should serve "some" quality.

    The last time I flew AA first class (domestic), I didn't even bother to look at the disgusting-looking chicken pasta they serve for lunch! Same for international routes, as well. One reason why I avoid flying with European and US airlines.

  14. George Guest

    Already have seen in the past two years KLM run out of meal choices on long haul flights. This will limit choices further.

    1. UncleRonnie Member

      Not just KLM. Sit anywhere near the back of coach on any long-haul flight and you'll hear the familiar story from the FA's: "We've run out of beef, sir. Pasta ok?"

    2. --- Guest

      SAS has gone further - there are no choices of meals at all in economy, period! (Though the meals were still pretty decent.)

  15. derek Guest

    Seems like a waste. The article says 2.5 meals are wasted per flight. There would be zero waste if they gave away the 2.5 meals. Very easy to do with 100 passengers. At least 2-3 will gladly eat extra.

    1. DCWABN Guest

      You're looking at it from a pax perspective. "Giving away" those two meals, while technically reducing waste, also costs KL money. Two meals not made at all is more financially beneficial than two meals "not wasted" by simply giving them away. Always remember that the "waste" spin is corporate speak for money saving.

  16. George Romey Guest

    In other words from time to time some one is not going to have the meal they paid for. If it's not "AI" it's "climate change" dressed up to screw customers.

  17. GBOAC Diamond

    Ben: your comment about this is not real AI is spot on. Every decade or so existing technology/applications seem to get rebranded with the buzz words/phrases popular at the time.

    1. Andrew Diamond

      Yup. This is definitely a "Web 2.0" moment.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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GBOAC Diamond

Ben: your comment about this is not real AI is spot on. Every decade or so existing technology/applications seem to get rebranded with the buzz words/phrases popular at the time.

4
steve64 Guest

It's called Yeild Management (or Revenue Management at other airlines). In the mid 1980's I was a Gate AAgent. Back when the 727 ruled the skies, hot meals were still served in coach on most of the mid-cons out of DFW and we didn't have elite upgrades yet. Flights were rarely catered 'up' to the booking level. For discussion, it's important to note that AA broke a 'meal' into 2 components: - the 'setup' ... tray, silverwear, salad & desert (the cold stuff) - the 'entree' (the hot stuff). A 727-200 had a capacity of F12 Y138. For a hypothetical flight, an example would be (and let's make it easy by saying no non-revs are expected): - F is booked to 10, I'd be catered with 12 setups and 9 entrees - Y is booked to 100, I'd be catered with 94 setups and 88 entrees. All as determined by Yield Management. In the 1980s. KLM is hardly cutting edge here. If you're interested... The concept seemed to be to have as many setups as YM thinks the pax count will be (but typically to capacity in First) and then under cater the entrees in case YM's expected count ended up higher than actual. We did have Shy Chef (AA's owned caterer) 'runners' in the terminal to top off any entree shortage. But yes, many times I'd close the door still under catered.

2
DCWABN Guest

You're looking at it from a pax perspective. "Giving away" those two meals, while technically reducing waste, also costs KL money. Two meals <i>not made at all</i> is more financially beneficial than two meals "not wasted" by simply giving them away. Always remember that the "waste" spin is corporate speak for money saving.

1
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