FOOD: Giving a Top Flight Service; Airline Food Is Up There with School Dinners and Meals Served in Hospitals or Motorway Service Stations as Most People's Idea of a Gastronomic Disaster. but Birmingham-Based Carrier Duo Is Setting a New Benchmark for Quality. Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Happily Tucks In

Article excerpt

Most of us would have lived through the nightmare that is the in-flight meal provided by the average airline.

By the time you unfreeze the little pack of butter to spread on a bread roll that has all the characteristics of a particularly nuggety rock, your super-heated main meal has cooled to a barely edible, tepid gloop.

If you do chance it, there's hardly enough room to extricate the brittle plastic cutlery and the paper tissue that might provide some form of protection as you attempt to tuck in to the dubious delights on the little tray with your elbows firmly wedged at your sides. The less said about the tea and coffee -if it actually remains in the little plastic flask-like cup, rather than in your lap -the better.

But this is not a scenario those passengers who have taken flights with Birminghambased Duo will recognise. It is just over a month since the airline started operated flights around Europe, but it is already setting a new and exceptionally high standard for other operators to consider.

Attention to detail is the key to Duo's approach. But value for money comes a very close second.

Pitched somewhere between the top of the range air fares and the no-frills budget carriers, Duo has achieved what many in the industry have claimed is impossible -club class standards at economy prices. It is a formula that is evident throughout the service, not least at meal times.

Previously a British Airways franchise, Duo was created by a management buy-out and from the outset looked to do things differently.

Martyn Bridger, director of customer service, explained that moving away from the mass-produced meals traditionally served by airlines was a crucial factor.

'We sat down to think through how we could do it differently and the first conclusion we came to was that we needed to abandon making the food at the airport, which is traditionally what most other carriers do,' he said. 'For example, there are between 8,000 and 10,000 meals produced at Birmingham International every day and as a result everyone tends to get the same food as it is mass produced.

'What we wanted was better quality and more flexibility. Our suppliers (Airfare) agreed to open up a unit in Birmingham just for us and they prepare the dishes from ingredients we source from niche outlets. So everything is fresh and everything is high quality.

'It also means we can change things around more quickly and more easily, whereas other carriers might be stuck with the same type of dishes for up to six months at a stretch. We can react to passengers' comments and give them what they actually want.'

This different approach extends on to the plane itself. The food is served onto china plates for the passengers, they get a proper wine glass, a china cup to have their hot drink.

There is plastic cutlery due to safety considerations, however, it is of a higher standard than the utensils used by other carriers. Then there are the linen napkins, complete with button hole in one corner to easily attach to a shirt or blouse, if required. …