We had a short layover today returning from visiting friends. The Memphis, TN airport is badly served in terms of food. They pack four kiosk sized fast-food vendors into the space normally arranged for one and corporate branding ideals keep the sellers from posting menus and prices anywhere but at the counter, a position reached after already making your choice and waiting on interminable lines that impede moving between terminals. I’m not sure how this reinforces anyone’s remaining brand loyalty.
The airlines, as a cost cutting move, have not served meals on most economy flights (though you do get a whole can of soda, whohoo) for a while. Cleverly, they are test marketing the sale of a limited number of prepared meals for a good deal more, considering the quantity of food, than what is sold in the terminal. It’s a good idea but the execution is poor. This time not only do you not read the menu until your choices are constrained- you’re not going anywhere relative to your seat to buy food now- but you don’t even learn that your particular flight is offering these choices until you are already in the air. The only possible customer in this situation would be the impulse buyer. If it’s popular, and profitable, it will probably become a regular feature of domestic flights. Seems like a good idea. Commodity airfare looks like it has pushed the airlines into the same sales niche as movie theaters- the product is pretty much the same from anywhere and prices are highly constrained so you try to distinguish your brand and end up making it up at the concession stand.
Maria commented how nice an automat would be. That is a great idea. When I have thirty minutes to catch a connecting flight I don’t want to spend twenty of it on a line buying McKentuckyHut (we bought sandwiches from a regional chain, by the way, the decision almost entirely based upon the length of the line). In the space of one vendor you could put in the automat’s assembly of little doors. The food is loaded from behind and each item kept fresh and appropriately hot or cold. Like the Febo in the Netherlands (eating at the wall), the items should be inexpensive and tasty and proportioned in such a way that a single item is not quite enough to fill you up, encouraging you to buy two or more. For convenience, these automats should accept debit and credit cards as wall as cash and coins. Despite being "retro" I think it would work- people are comfortable buying from vending machines- and this would return airport food to where it belongs: just another commodity