Air Transport World

Competitive pressures spur increased variety in passenger cabin service.

Braniff, trying to climb out of bankruptcy, serves better food and has more comfortable seats at discount prices than many airlines offer at higher fares.

Frontier Airlines, which used to pride itself on its hot inflight food service, stopped serving hot meals earlier this year.

People Express Airlines' cheap fares attract hordes of travelers, including well-heeled ones, who don't mind paying for meals, liquor and coffee.

Midway Metrolink, trying to appeal to the frequent business traveler, serves primarily cold meals.

Cearly cabin service is all over the map. If there is one definable trend, it is that many airlines finally have decided they can't duplicate an elegant restaurant. On the other hand, American Airlines and United Airlines both vow they will continue to provide their standard full service to a vast cross-section of travelers. Trans World Airlines now offers a selection from seven entrees to passengers calling a day in advance. Says TWA's Peter McHugh, VP-international division, "Our cabin service is better than ever before." If that statement, as well as those of other big airlines, is accurate, why do so many passengers complain about inflight service these days?

Cabin service has many elements: Liquor, movies, attitudes and attentiveness of personnel, food. It is the latter that colors many passengers' reactions. It is the aspect on which airlines spend large amounts of research time and money. Different rules

USAir Executive VP Randall Malin says food research is affected by what he calls "the public television syndrome." In other words, when television ratings services survey viewers, many respondents insist they only watch news and documentaries, not that ghastly stuff on the commercial networks. "When market researchers survey airline passengers, respondents say they only want a bowl of soup and a sandwich. When you give it them, they yell like hell."

Malin, a former American Airlines marketing official, cites tha carrier's experiment with its so-called "picnic-in-the-sky," served several years ago between Chicago and New York. "It was an absolute disaste." As far as Malin is concerned, "There are two kinds of men--those who eat quiche--and pasta--and those who eat meat and potatoes. …

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