I would have said you could smell it before you saw it, but food usually has to be warm for it to have a noticeable aroma.

However, you could certainly hear the grumbling from passengers on the final 90 minutes of the 22 hour slog from London to Sydney.

"Um, sorry, what's that?" one traveller asked the British Airways' flight attendant as the dream of a hot breakfast evaporated before their eyes.

"It's a cheese and bacon sandwich, madam," said the airline staff member, smiling but surely faintly embarrassed.


It was two little slices of white bread, with a few slivers of fridge-temperature bacon and cheese between. It was limp, cold and glad-wrapped.

The offering would have looked a little sad on a low-cost airline. For economy on a major full service carrier, it was positively heartbreaking.

It looked like the kind of thing a harried parent would wrap up in a rush and fling to their child who was going on a school trip for the day.

And depressing news coming out of another of the world's biggest carriers earlier this month suggests this long haul, economy class staple is now firmly in the luxury basket and could shortly be but a memory.

"It could be the end of the hot breakfast in economy," one aviation analyst told news.com.au.

Bye bye brekky

Earlier this month, German giant Lufthansa quietly let slip it was ditching the second hot meal on all flights of more than 10 hours in length. Not short haul, but mammoth intercontinental globe trotting trips.

The airline has, bizarrely, called this a "service development" based on "feedback from customers". Customers who somehow want less bang for their buck and less comfort on their already exhausting flights.

It's as inconceivable as customers demanding a mobile phone shop offer the "service development" of only offering a tatty old Nokia for the price of an iPhone because they want the flexibility of fewer apps and just love that classic flip phone action.

The sad little excuse of a sandwich served on British Airways' economy class to Sydney. Photo / Benedict Brook
The sad little excuse of a sandwich served on British Airways' economy class to Sydney. Photo / Benedict Brook

Weirdly, for such tremendous news, Lufthansa, a Star Alliance airline, didn't put out a press release or tweet about it. Rather, the news was picked up by airline blogs including Simply Flying and One Mile at a Time.

The new, improved, yet worse service starts later this month. The first meal will still be warm; the second will be a "high quality cold sandwich" the airline confirmed.

This is only slightly more appetising than earlier reports that the second meal would be a "cold vegetarian snack".

That suggested the second hot meal would be ditched in favour of some wizened dried up carrot sticks to kick start the day. A cheese wrap sounds positively indulgent in comparison.

"Over the past few months, we have carried out over 80 flights with various test scenarios. Thus, it was possible for us to establish a modern service according to current customer wishes thanks to feedback from our customers," Lufthansa's Asia-Pacific Head of Communications Klaus Pokorny told news.com.au.

"Many customers like the possibility of either enjoying this second meal immediately or packing it for the rest of their journey," was another head scratching reason for the change.

The airline claimed the reduction in food offering would also be more environmental friendly due to the reduction in packaging. But then Lufthansa is also planning on giving each passenger a 0.5L plastic bottle of water as they board. So the messages are somewhat mixed in that regard.

End of the sky high omelette

Lufthansa doesn't fly direct to New Zealand. But Kiwi passengers flying to Europe may end up on a Lufthansa plane after transferring in a hub like Singapore or Hong Kong.

Some other airlines might be tempted to follow suit, Strategic Aviation Solution's Neil Hansford told news.com

"It's difficult to make a buck in the back of the plane internationally," the aviation consultant said.

Airlines like Lufthansa, based in high wage countries, were struggling to compete with carriers from elsewhere that paid their staff less. So they were cutting corners in the cabin to keep up.

Increasingly that meant major full service carriers offering rock bottom seat only fares to attract customers that might otherwise have flown low-cost.

"The price point for most people is the economy fare and so we now have these low fares airlines that aren't actually low cost airlines."

He expected more inclusions to be stripped from economy fares with customers, even with traditional airlines, forced to pay for extras.

"People will buy bundles off a base fare, like having a hot breakfast, and the airlines will end up with more revenue.

"It's the way of the future. It could be the end of the (included) hot breakfast in economy."

Sure, the omelettes were watery, the tomatoes were often tasteless and the croissants had all the flaky give of a small boulder. But after almost a day in the air, trying to sleep while the man next to you dribbles on you shoulder, it felt like the least you deserved.

Qantas' reaction

Lufthansa may have been forced into the change because one of its core long haul markets is Europe to North America. It's in a fight with low coast airlines like Norwegian, British Airways' Level subsidiary, Canada's West Jet and, soon, the US' JetBlue.

But Hansford said it would be far tricker for airlines such as Qantas (or Air New Zealand) to get away with the same thing as its competition is swankier and less low cost.

"Qantas won't be able to reduce the level of their offering because the likes of Emirates, Qatar, Cathay and JAL are prepared to offer breakfast so Qantas has to compete."

Qantas told news.com.au the majority of its long haul flights offered two hot main sized meals. Indeed, in recent years, Qantas has revamped its food offerings by enlarging the main course, making menus more interesting with contemporary choices beyond just "chicken or fish", and offering perks like a welcome drink and hot chocolate.

It's a move that has now been mimicked by US carrier Delta that, from this month, will offer a revamped long haul food service with bigger dishes and non-alcoholic cocktails in the cheap seats.

Would economy class customers care that Lufthansa was going in the opposite direction?

Hansford doubted if many would avoid the airline entirely: "Typically they will look at the cost before they ever consider other things.

"They will be disappointed and they will whinge but they will also realise what they would have paid elsewhere."

British Airways does serve hot second meals, including breakfast, on some long haul flights. But the airline did not respond to news.com.au's questions about their sad little glad-wrapped cheese sandwich