NEW DELHI: The Centre on Thursday relaxed onboard meal and inflight service norms for domestic flights, as well as international ones operated by Air India, private airlines and charter companies. Airlines operating domestic flights can now provide pre-packed snacks, meals and hot beverages. This means, low cost airlines can start selling these items again and full service can resume meal service. Passengers on international flights can now be served hot meals and limited beverages — including alcoholic — instead of the packed food and cold non-alcoholic beverage and water bottles that were kept on seats to minimise crew-flyer interaction till now during the pandemic.
Back-of-seat inflight entertainment (IFE) screens have also been allowed to come to life with the condition that before boarding of passengers, each screen should be disinfected and cleaned thoroughly. Disposable or disinfected headphones can now be given to passengers.
The aviation ministry on Thursday issued an amended standard operating procedures (SOP) that allow these changes. “In all classes, tea/coffee/alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage service will be in disposable cans/containers/bottles/glasses. There will be no pouring service and beverages will be served in single use disposable units,” the order by aviation ministry joint secretary Usha Padhee says for international flights. The only difference for domestic flights in this amended order is that alcoholic beverages are not allowed.
The amended SOP requires cabin crew to “wear a fresh set of gloves for every meal/beverage service”. While allowing meals, beverages and IFE, the stress is on hygiene and strict disinfection of each cutlery item and screen.
Instead of the earlier “no or minimum catering (pre-packed cold meals, snacks, depending on length of flight) and no tea/coffee,” airlines, private and charter aircraft operating international flights to and from India can now “serve hot meals and limited beverages”. The earlier rules for international flights during the pandemic required leaving cold, picked meals and some water bottles — quantity dependent on flying time — on passenger seats and water bottles were to be kept in galley for flyers to pick up if needed. This was to minimise cue-passenger interaction.
The earlier SOP required IFE to be switched off to minimise touch on aircraft surfaces. Now, IFE has been allowed subject to thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before boarding of passengers. “Each seat will have its own dedicated IFE to be used only by the passenger occupying the seat…. All passenger touchpoint will be carefully cleaned and disinfected after the flight,” it says.