Shaving off a couple of ounces here and there may not seem like significant weight-loss numbers.
Still, if you’re the design firm tasked with streamlining an airline’s in-flight meal service tools, it means a lot. Multiply those few ounces by hundreds of passengers and thousands of flights, and you get very significant weight savings.
Virgin Atlantic spent $168 million on a complete redesign of both its economy and first-class in-flight meal service trays, utensils, and coffeepots, reports Wired.
The airline hired London-based design firm MAP to make serving meals simultaneously more efficient and upscale. Gone are the cafeteria-style days, where you get all your food at once. With this new design, Virgin Atlantic will serve your main course, then come back to give you dessert and coffee—like you’re in an airborne restaurant.
The project started in 2011, and 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, as Fast Company reports, there are very strict security guidelines about the design of plastic utensils used on aircrafts. Virgin’s only mandate? Make them VA-purple.
MAP’s economy tray design addresses several issues. Old trays had paper liners, which were an added expense, and didn’t really keep food from sliding around in flight. By contrast, the new trays have a rubbery material lining them, which helps keep food and utensils in place—without the need for an additional liner. 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.
With the old tray design, only three trays would fit per shelf. The new design allows for four trays per shelf. That means Virgin Atlantic can carry one full cart less on every flight.
What’s more, MAP ingeniously designed the trays so that each one hooks the one behind it, pulling it forward when a flight attendant pulls the one in front off to give to a customer. That saves time for the flight attendants, and also means you’ll get your food a little faster. The design firm estimates a weight savings of 132 kg (291 lbs) per flight from these Economy-class meal changes alone.
Meal service for first class passengers received a MAPS upgrade, too. A new two-tiered tray that flight attendants can assemble in only 11 seconds will allow first class passengers to receive a tidy sandwich and dessert right quick. The new coffee carafe has a handy indicator dial at the top, so flight attendants can easily see what’s in each carafe without breaking out the Sharpies. Even better, they’re ergonomically designed, so flight attendants won’t strain their wrists every time they pour.
Most importantly, the lighter redesign will save fuel, which will effectively save money for the company and benefit the environment. Can the designers at MAP just put on some superhero capes already?