With the ongoing global pandemic and rising and falling numbers of COVID-19 cases in almost every country around the world, one would think that air travel doesn’t have the same appeal it did pre-pandemic. Savvy travelers the world over, however, are itching to get back on planes to knock sites off their bucket lists, visit family, change jobs or simply get up in the skies after months of cabin fever.
For Muslim travelers who eat Halal, not much will change in terms of food service, at least not on US airlines with domestic or international flights. That means the availability of Halal meals (boxed or not) for Muslim travelers in the US will most likely not be an option.
It’s curious to note that in 2020 when the word “Halal” is no longer shrouded in mystery but has instead been popularized by food chains such as The Halal Guys in the US and written and talked about extensively in food blogs, magazines, and books, menu options are still virtually non-existent in the airline industry, save the ones hailing from the Middle East and Muslim countries such as Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates Airlines. That’s a tiny fraction given that there are somewhere in the ballpark of over 5,000 airlines operating in the world today. Not only does it seem a bit curious, but it also seems like a lost business opportunity.
Before factoring in the drop in travel due to COVID-19, an upsurge in Halal tourism was projected to grow globally, with numbers projecting upwards of 150 million Halal-consuming Muslim travelers by 2020 and valued at over $200 billion in spending. Even with the lull in travel in 2020 and most likely into part of 2021, once the entire world gets back to the skies, rest assured the Muslim traveler will be no less mobile. Their Halal meal options in the air, however, may not be serving their dietary needs. This is an enormous gap in the market and one full of potential for airlines to fill.
With an estimated 3.45 million Muslims in the United States, many of whom are affluent and have the desire to travel both around the country and abroad, it’s perplexing to see a void of Halal menu options on American carriers. Surely if the price was right and the airline had a Halal offering, Muslim travelers would feel incentivized enough to choose the ones serving their dietary needs over the ones that don’t.
So how can airlines jump on this opportunity to fill the gap and provide Halal meals to an unserved market in the best way?
For starters, airlines can easily have their current menu offerings researched by ISA Halal to understand which food items either meet Halal requirements and/or learn how to make adjustments to meet those requirements (i.e. no pork, no alcohol and any meat served is ritually processed). Given the expertise of ISA Halal and its vast network of Halal-certified products, airlines will have access to the latest information and resources to easily certify their meals. Newrest and LSG Sky Chefs are just two well-known international airline catering companies that prepare and provide Halal meals.
The process is not as arduous or complicated as many might think, although it is understandable to be overwhelmed by the perceived complexity, expense, or responsibility of serving certified Halal food. This is where the work of a certified Halal agency like ISA comes in and assumes the role of consulting, advising, and guiding.
Simple solutions like substituting certain types of loaves of bread and meats or the removal and replacement of an ingredient that contains alcohol or non-Halal derived animal-sourced materials are part of the required steps for existing menu items to go from non-Halal to Halal compliant and certified. Most importantly, the benefits can be incredibly rewarding and profitable for the airline in both the short and long term. The American Halal consumer market will surely be the most relevant source of word-of-mouth marketers for those airlines addressing the dietary needs of this unserved group of travelers.