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Why vending machines may be the future of in-flight snacking

July 22, 2020
4 min read
Why vending machines may be the future of in-flight snacking
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Is it time for in-flight vending machines?

The coronavirus pandemic has led to major changes across the airline industry. One of the most noticeable has been airline adjustments to in-flight services to minimize onboard food and beverage service. This was done both to limit customer and flight attendant interactions and as a cost-saving measure.

Installing vending machines on airplanes would address both of these problems.

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The concept of in-flight vending machines is simple. Passengers would be able to order snacks, meals, drinks and travel accessories on their phones and then go to the machine to pick it up. Payments would be made through the app so the entire process would be nearly touchless and would require no additional human interaction.

One of the pioneers of in-flight vending systems is Tulsa-based aerospace company Nordam with its skEYE-Vend concept. It would allow passengers to browse inventory via an app, tap their phones onto the pantry-like machine to open its doors and then take out their item of choice.

Similar to the cashier-free Amazon Go stores, the systems would use artificial intelligence to track when items are removed and then automatically process payments. The systems would also help airlines manage their inventory better.

Related: In-flight service is resuming — here’s what food and drinks you can expect on your next flight

(Photo courtesy of NORDAM)

The idea made it on the shortlist for the 2019 year’s Crystal Cabin Awards, which celebrate innovations for the inside of aircraft cabins.

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The winners of the Crystal Cabin Awards are typically announced at the Aircraft Interior Show in Hamburg — the 2020 event was canceled — and the finalists sometimes include what seem like fairly far-out concepts. Perhaps that's what some may have thought about onboard vending machines, though perhaps the concept was just a bit ahead of its time.

Carlos Flores, NORDAM Vice President of Manufacturing Sales, explained to TPG: “We were thinking well ‘outside of the catering cart’ when we introduced SkEYE-Vend at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg last year, but we didn’t know just how timely it was. Our intent was to deliver an onboard storefront to generate airline revenue and resolve the 'wish I’d grabbed a bite in the terminal' hungry-passenger predicament. But the fact that it’s a nearly touch-free system – no personal interaction, no buttons to press or money changing hands – makes it a perfect solution in the era of COVID-19.”

Related: New airplane seats for the coronavirus era?

(Photo courtesy of NORDAM)

While its concept isn't nearly as developed, Seattle-based design firm Teague shares a similar vision of transforming aircraft galleys into self-service food retail areas.

Inspired by Amazon package pickup lockers and Japanese vending machines, orders would be made available for pickup via designated compartments. Meals would be stored and warmed via a robotic system.

Related: 11 memorable meals TPG staffers have had at 35,000 feet

(Photo courtesy of Bernadette Berger/Teague)

Bottom line

Air travel will not be the same in the post-coronavirus world. While some of the in-flight service cuts due to the pandemic are temporary, others may be here to stay. Airlines already began moving toward the à la carte “buy on board” concept before the pandemic and will be more desperate to boost their revenue streams going forward.

Many of the new ideas for cabin interiors never make it past the concept stage, and that's possible here. After all, Qantas ended up scrapping plans for sleeping compartments on the cargo deck and it doesn't look like any airline will install double-decker premium economy seats anytime soon.

Only time will tell if in-flight vending machines actually come into fruition, but if they do, hopefully, airlines will use the technology to offer incentives for frequent flyers and co-branded airline cardholders.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
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  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023