Who would have thought that a simple redesign of an in-flight meal tray could drastically reduce Virgin Atlantic’s fuel consumption and carbon emissions? Industrial design consultancy MAP helped the British airline streamline their food tray design to improve service and save millions on packaging materials, energy, and fuel costs over the next decade.
Virgin Atlantic spent $168 million on the transformative design to improve their in-flight meal service and give economy class customers more room while enjoying their food. This has led to a lighter load and a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and related fuel costs.
When the project started in 2011, MAP was given guidelines it had to follow. For example, the new economy trays had to fit on the existing carts VA uses—industry-standard tools used by all airlines. Also, there are very strict security guidelines about the design of plastic utensils used on aircrafts. Virgin’s only mandate? Make them VA-purple.
Instead of serving all of the food at once, Virgin Atlantic decided to break up each meal into courses like a restaurant. The biggest advantage of MAP’s newly designed tray for Virgin Atlantic is that it is more efficient than older trays. While only three trays could fit in every row on the old, industry-standard meal carts, the new Virgin Atlantic trays can squeeze four fully loaded trays in per row, allowing each cart to hold 33% more meals. It’s the equivalent of Virgin Atlantic only having to load three food carts on a flight instead of four.
Virgin Atlantic trays were once lined with paper; the new trays use a spongy plastic instead to keep food and utensils in place and cut down on waste. They cost a little more initially, but the cost savings of not having to use paper liners will more than offset the initial purchase price. A sleek coffee pot with an ergonomic handle and clever lid to address the needs of flight attendants was created to replace the standard pots. In addition, MAP designed a two-tier plastic stand for first class customers that can hold a sandwich on one level and a piece of cake on another.
The upgrade is also designed to make flight attendants’ jobs easier. For example, the new trays include a lip so that they can hook together. This means that when the flight attendant pulls one meal out, the next meals slide forward as well, so they can just grab them for the next passenger instead of having to reach into the back of the cart.
MAP estimates 53 pounds of aircraft equipment weight will be saved per flight with the more efficient tray design. With millions of Virgin flights, the savings in both fuel costs and carbon emissions for the entire fleet quickly adds up, which goes to show how even small steps can make a big impact.
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What do you think of the new meal tray design?