Requiem for the airline bezzun

From the heartiness of a full English and metal cutlery, to the parsimoniousness of the baguette, Air Malta bucks the trend and ditches the ‘free food’

The Maltese national airline ditched the last vestige of its in-flight service as the mediocre ‘bezzun’ – the baguette – makes way for a gourmet-style selection against payment.

The price list surely won’t break the bank, but the move from a free meal to a €10 meal deal now epitomises Air Malta’s final transition from the legacy airline it was, to another ‘low fares’ hybrid that ditches the frills of flying.

The older generations will recall an airline whose in-flight service included the full English breakfast on early flights, meals with pasta and meat servings, wine and alcohol miniatures, but also extended freebies: when Air Malta operated its own tour agency it gave out free bags, even free tube tickets for London holidaymakers.

Flying itself was a rare and expensive endeavour for budget tourists, where the treat of eating on board was often accompanied by metal cutlery – an expensive accoutrement that was substituted for cheaper plastic and finally eradicated by the 9-11 terror attacks.

But there has been a radical shift. The younger traveller cares little about the end of the free baguette, because they are accustomed to more frequent travel and are therefore motivated simply by the low pricing ushered in by low-cost giants Ryanair and EasyJet. Already on these airlines, the buy-on-board concept is standard and adopted by other European legacy airlines. Air Malta itself said consumers had indicated they preferred having a larger choice of what to eat, and will now offer over 70 quality food and drink items on board, while business class fliers will retain an upgraded inflight menu.

Just an aerial bus service. The glamour of Air Malta’s last freebie, the most humble ‘baguette’ finally makes way for a sumptuous buy-on-board menu
Just an aerial bus service. The glamour of Air Malta’s last freebie, the most humble ‘baguette’ finally makes way for a sumptuous buy-on-board menu

“The glamour of flying has gone,” the aviation journalist Terence Mirabelli, told MaltaToday, saying LCCs like Ryanair turned air travel “into an aerial bus service”, and that legacy airlines’ business models have changed.

“I suspect most people don’t mind not having free food if flights are short and up to three hours or so. It reduces ticket prices. If flying coach, people do not mind. But when paying a premium rate for first or business class I would expect some sort of VIP treatment. Paying extra for a seat just barely wider than one’s derrière is not on.”

“Air Malta is not a low-cost airline,” Brussels-based Angele Sears Debono said, adding that the national airline should not remove its in-flight food. “The airline industry is moving towards a more corporate profit approach rather than providing comfort and service to passengers. Air Malta already charges a premium over low-cost airlines – by removing these ‘incentives’ it doesn’t give travellers any incentive to choose Air Malta over low-cost airlines.”

But both Mirabelli and Sears Debono agree travellers will fly according to price and timing, with or without food. “If LCCs offer cheaper flights with the same services as Air Malta, travellers will pick those cheaper flights,” Sears Debono says.

Michelle Zammit, who runs the blog Cheeky Passport, uses Air Malta infrequently because she has spent the last year travelling around Asia. When she is travelling within Europe, pricing is her first consideration. “As long as removing free in-flight food will result in appreciable cuts in cost, there is no problem with removing this amenity,” she said.

It’s a rationale that seals the debate on the free food service on European airlines: travellers can simply pack themselves some lunch or buy it aboard, because eating aboard is anyway no longer the luxury it was once perceived.

Air Malta’s humble ‘bezzun’ provoked media outrage and gave vent to the Maltese passion for complaining. This time, nobody is worrying about the end of one of the poorest ever lunch options to be offered at 30,000 feet above the ground: strikes, cancellations and unexpected delays are what fliers get riled about.

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