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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » On-Board Service: Dining And Other Issues (Page 1)

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Author Topic: On-Board Service: Dining And Other Issues
Gilbert B Norman
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Fair Use from a recent NARP/RPA posting at their site:
  • Rail Passengers Association was disappointed to learn this week that Amtrak plans to extend its Contemporary Dining menu and dining service on to all of the long-distance trains east of the Mississippi.

    The move takes effect October 1 -- the beginning of Fiscal 2020 -- as part of a package of changes rolling out on trains in the eastern half of the country. Western trains are not affected by this move.

    “The problem isn’t the food itself, it’s the way the whole experience is handled,” said Rail Passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews. “We understand the need to make lighter fare available to match the tastes of many modern travelers. But as it’s currently executed on the Capitol and the Lake Shore, too often food items run short, there aren’t enough hot options, and the presentation is perfunctory and off-putting.”

    Rail Passengers has been encouraging Amtrak to consider alternatives, but the railroad is moving forward with the plan to improve the financials on these routes. We agree with the need for a more flexible dining service, with more choice for passengers -- choice about what to eat, where to eat, and when to eat it -- but we think the Capitol and Lake Shore experience needs more improvement before going out to more routes.

    We will continue to press for alternatives, and also to highlight the importance of good food to Amtrak riders on all routes. We have also offered to meet with Amtrak to offer constructive suggestions on food provisioning, menus and crew training,
Even if at this moment, there is an acceptable $650 fare to me for NB on AT during Feb '20, this will be "the last straw".

"Western trains not affected", well, you're next.

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palmland
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I am surprised there has been so little reaction to this on this forum. Perhaps no one is looking?

I guess this isn’t surprising. Surely this isn’t unexpected. Why would Amtrak do a test on two trains if they didn’t expect to roll it out i the east. For what it’s worth, rumor has it this will not affect Auto-train. We shall see.

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yukon11
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Contemporary dining matches the taste of "modern travelers"?. Do they really believe that? Why don't they simply (as they well may) offer "modern travelers" the splendid cold meals on all Amtrak trains? If contemporary food becomes reality on all LDs, it might be and should be the end of the Amtrak LD. For the present, I'll be taking along a Ritz cheese & cracker snack pack on my next Amtrak trip.

Richard

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ghCBNS
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This is a Pork Loin Dinner on VIA's Ocean. There is no chef onboard. Meals come from an airline caterer.....are reheated (not microwaved) replated then served. Meals are included for sleeper passengers but note at bottom of the menu.......coach passengers can purchase this meal for a fixed $19.

All Amtrak trains originate where they would have access to an airline caterer for similar meals. “If there’s a will….there’s a way!”

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Gilbert B Norman
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Auto-Train is safe for Sleeper passengers, downgrade for Coach:

https://media.amtrak.com/2019/07/amtrak-investing-in-the-auto-train-customer-experience/

Topic title changed to reflect this positive development.

It would appear they will add some of the 370XX Diner-Lounges to the AT pool. Enough of them are sitting around doing less than nothing.

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palmland
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I had made reservation earlier for the weekend 611 is at the Strasburg (end of September). Then our son requested our presence for a week at Disney to provide chauffeur and nanny duties. So the solution was A-T., Sanford-Lorton. Should be an interesting trip.

While we won’t see these improvements, we’ll report on the present mediocre service. But, this does sound encouraging. And if I was a coach passenger and wanted to save a buck (assume coach fare will be reduced?), I’d welcome a food truck. Sort of like the Burrito lady in El Paso.

GBN, with this change, think you’ll try A-T next winter?

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Gilbert B Norman
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Tue Jan 28, #52, me in a Bedroom, Black Beauty on the rack, $661. That's acceptable to me.

Based on the trip I'm planning, i.e. "outta Dodge" before all the Super Bowl mullarkey starts, two weekends in Miami for the Cleveland Orchestra, and the in between week in Boca at slightly reduced hotel rates.

But booking Seven Months in advance - and no more refunds - I don't know. My days of joyrides are, sorry, over.

I got a $958 credit from United when I found a lower fare for Munich next month. I've committed to burn $711 of it for Dallas this Saturday, and the $247 left will be gone with any of the four remaining overnight trips I have on the calendar this year.

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Gilbert B Norman
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quote:
Originally posted by ghCBNS:
This is a Pork Loin Dinner on VIA's Ocean. There is no chef onboard. Meals come from an airline caterer.....are reheated (not microwaved) replated then served. Meals are included for sleeper passengers but note at bottom of the menu.......coach passengers can purchase this meal for a fixed $19.

Mr. GH, while I respect it may be a personal choice on your part, where's the wine?

Is it "comped" or have they a wine list?

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ghCBNS
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quote:
Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman:
Mr. GH, while I respect it may be a personal choice on your part, where's the wine?

Is it "comped" or have they a wine list?



The Wine list from the dinner menu:

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…..and featuring some excellent Nova Scotia wines:

https://grandprewines.com/

(and note in the dinner menu (top photo).....the wine suggestion next to the items)

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Gilbert B Norman
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Have to note, Mr. Hadfield, that's a generous glass: 5oz; 150ml. What I find interesting is that in Europe, there is a "hashmark" on the glass @ 125ml.

But apparently, they do not sell a "half" - 375ml - or a bottle - 750ml.

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dizney1990
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Checked on Auto Train fares for February 2020. The fares are the same as always, no lower fares due to there no longer being a dinner option. I wonder if this will affect the number of Coach travelers, especially those with 2 or 3 children. I guess time will tell.
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palmland
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I think Amtrak might have this backwards, disney. It would make more sense to me to charge for meals for those with presumably more disposable income, sleeper passengers. But continue to provide meals included for those on tight budgets, coach passengers. One caveat, if you charge sleeper passengers, make it worth it: prime meats, real cuisine with extravagant deserts and top shelf wine/spirits.
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Gilbert B Norman
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This is likely not supposed "to be out there, but it is
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palmland
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Yes, it’s make the rounds of railfan sites.

Only good news is if you’re an A-T sleeper passenger and some improvement for Cardinal that gets a Viewliner diner, now known as a sleeper lounge. Assuming no guarantee pay in the contract, 55 employees will be looking for a job. No doubt gets Anderson closer to F&B break even.

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Gilbert B Norman
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A "Voyage 24" after all?

My Florida trip next year Jan 18 to 26, is earlier than normal - stay away from all the Super Bowl hoopla "infecting" South Florida.

I checked AT 52(26JAN) and the fare of $661, me in Bedroom, "Black Beauty" on the rack, is acceptable to me.

So my American Express cycles on the 20th, and if that fare still stands, I could well live with that and "bite". Paying up front four months out is tolerable to me (bought my concert tickets for Salzburg during April).

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sojourner
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I thought the food really stunk on the Cap Ltd and Lakeshore when I went to the Dakotas last May.
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yukon11
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https://is.gd/Tuh257

Fred Harvey must be turning over in his grave.

Richard

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Gilbert B Norman
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Hafta say. Richard, never seen that site before. Either he "knows his stuff" or he writes good fiction, is unknown to me.

Finally, allow me to note regarding the scene from the movie "White Christmas", not even European trains ride THAT smoothly. Well, maybe HSR in Asia does.

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yukon11
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An article from the Rail Passengers Association:

https://is.gd/zd6jnV

From the article, "There have been suggestions made by Amtrak that new equipment was coming that would make it easier to address these concerns. Likewise, a new food-service vendor competition was supposed to improve the food choices while helping Amtrak meet its legal mandate to break-even on food and beverage. New convection ovens were supposed to replace microwaves so that more food could be cooked simultaneously and it would taste better."

*************************

In this computer age, could they have a program where desired food and time for food delivery be conveyed, by passengers, upon ticket purchase? Have the food frozen in freezer cars and heated by a bank of fast convection ovens, as the article states. Possibly self pickup at a dispensing window to decrease labor costs, although attendant delivery could be for passengers in sleepers. Just a thought.


Richard

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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by yukon11:
Amtrak meet its legal mandate to break-even on food and beverage.

To the best of my knowledge this never happened pre Amtrak. The railroads considered a certain level of loss on dining cars as part of the amenities needed to attract passengers.
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Gilbert B Norman
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The roads, as well as pre-Anderson Amtrak, simply accepted that Dining car losses were as controlable as clearing rights of way after a storm.

Just think how overseas, the standard F&B service is provided from one car. They don't know what a Dome car is over there. It's a wonder that the Sightseer is not cut from definitely the Chief, Eagle, and Sunset - and even the Zephyr (Builder is supposedly busier than those) during slack periods.

While somewhere there's an airfan who finds something "experiential" about a commercial flight, they're few and far between. As such, the thinking at One Mass is now why should we cater to anyone who finds same with a rail trip?

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George Harris
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Even as late as 1968, when I was an L&N emmployee, they still advertized their Country Ham Breakfast as one of the great positives for a having a diningcar meal. If I recall correctly, the price was something like $2.75, which was quite a bit considering that you get a reasonably good breakfast for around a dollar to $1.25 in most not-rolling restaurants. Don't recall what the more normal dining care breakfasts were at that time, but they were under $2.00. Also to note: For employees traveling on the company, at least at the peon level, you were not allowed to have a country ham breakfast on your expense report. (Sleeping accomodation allowed was upper berth. The normal L&N sleeper was 6-4-6, six roometttes, four double bedrooms, six sections. If the lower was unsold, you could use it.)
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palmland
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This what you had in mind, George?

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yukon11
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Here is a L&N breakfast menu from an unknown year. You're right, George, you could get quite a breakfast for $1.00. Check out "breakfast #1" on the right side of the page:

https://is.gd/6lM8ks

Even the 65 cent breakfast looks pretty good.

Richard

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George Harris
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Palmland: Yes! This picture is as close I ever got to one.
Yukon: Menu probably from sometime in the 1950's. Don't know when L&N changed the L&N to the italicised form, but it was a few years before 1968.

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Gilbert B Norman
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The travel industry site, Skift, has an interview with Mr. Anderson posted at their site. While many aspects of Amtrak, this point is most relevan to the discussion at this topic:

https://skift.com/2019/09/07/skift-global-forum-preview-amtrak-ceo-wants-to-bring-airline-nimbleness-to-the-rails

Fair Use:
  • Skift: You make a lot of your revenue on short-haul trains on the East Coast. But you said the longer routes are more challenging. What’s their future?

    Anderson: There will always be a place for the experiential long-haul train, because Congress has told us clearly that that’s an important part of our mission. What we do is follow the law at Amtrak. The laws are clear that the national network is an important offering.

    Probably today, we operate 15 of them, including Empire Builder across the northern western half of the U.S., the Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco, the Southwest Chief, and the Coast Starlight. In an ideal state, we probably would operate somewhere between five to 10 and instead focus our efforts and resources on short-haul intercity transportation, because that’s where the demand indicators are for Amtrak.
I think Mr. Anderson is Kubler-Ross Phase Five - Acceptance - regarding the LD's. Nevermind they lose $$$ hand over fist and there is many a way that the rural "can't drives, won't flies" could have their transportation needs met more economically, assuming there is some "public necessity" to provide for such, they're not going away as easily as he envisioned.

While I've never been, and have a Niece who resides there and wants me to "come on down". I think Australia's present LD service is where I envision Amtrak going. Excluding the private sector "Luxotrains" (Gahn, Indian-Pacific), the only trains that could be called intercity radiate from Sidney, NSW to Brisbane, QLD and Melbourne, VIC. Over each of these 500 mile journeys, there are "two a day" - a Daylight and a Night Train. Both have Coaches, an F&B car, and one Sleeper, in which rooms are sold for day occupancy on the Daylight. The Sleeper is not inventoried in their reservation System, or at least is not available for on-line sale.

The train operated by NSW Transport is hardly competitive with drive time to either, and the Brisbane Night Train features a
3AM arrival and vacate somewhere in the Styx.

Considering there are flights on the airline of your choice all through the day, the rail service is not even in the ballpark. It only exists for the intermediate stops - and the pols.

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palmland
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Apparently Fresh and Contemporary is now Flexible Dining

This does appear to be a significant improvement over the 'meal in a box' of the much maligned Fresh and Contemporary effort.

And for the record, I'm all for limiting coach passenger to the cafe car. Maybe a pleasant faux diner with a glass of wine will be ok, even if the food is not worthy of the Broadway Ltd (or for that matter, any dining car pre Amtrak).

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Gilbert B Norman
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I certainly concur, Mr. Palmland.

Now what remains unresolved is what they have in the box for Auto-Train AND for how much longer will there be any traditional dining anywhere on the System.

Regarding Auto-Train, for #52(28JAN), a rate of $661 is available (me in a Bedroom Black Beauty on the rack). That is acceptable to me, but it's still five months out or otherwise too soon to commit.

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Gilbert B Norman
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https://media.amtrak.com/2019/09/amtrak-introduces-enhanced-menu-and-flexible-dining-experience-on-five-routes/

There is a press relesse with a few more "sweeteners"; namely:

"Flexible Dining in 2020, for 91-92"Silver Star"

An inauguration timeline-2020 - for the V-II Sleepers.

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Jerome Nicholson
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OK, so the breakfasts are equal to what I could get at McDonald's. And since I could probably get a better takeout lunch or dinner before boarding the train, maybe they make a good point. But the Western trains are a different story, with people being in them multiple days.
Perhaps Palmland's solution makes sense, with the ridership experience on the Western trains being a major selling point. And if charging the sleeping car passengers might get them food like what is served on the Canadian, I'm all for it!
In the meantime, serve the Eastern passengers what the the Acela passengers get. Or at least what they'd get at McDonald's.

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Jerome Nicholson
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Or maybe Starbucks could supply the coach lounge cafe's with its wares and teach the onboard crew how to prepare them. That ought to get past union rules.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Here are two Fair Use quotations available through the RPA/NARP site at a blog originated by their CEO, Mr. Matthews:

https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/an-ideal-state-for-amtrak/

  • The Empire Builder, for example, is worth $327 million every year to the economies of the states it serves, and by extension the entire U.S. economy. We pay roughly $57 million every year to run it. That’s a helluva bargain. For small communities along the route, it’s a lifeline. Just to take one instance, Cut Bank, Montana, and its roughly 3,000 citizens derive nearly $400,000 worth of economic benefit from the existence of the train.

  • In an “ideal state,” BNSF, CSX, CN and the rest could earn a sufficient profit for their shareholders by ensuring that the elderly woman in Marks, Mississippi, the disabled vet in New Mexico or the isolated Native Americans in Montana all had safe, reliable service. But that “ideal state” doesn’t exist, and that’s why we have an Amtrak.

I'm not going to dispute the notions within either of these quotations, but I would like to use them to point out a problem I have with any advocacy group. The problem is "it's all about us and our cause, and forget the adversely affected parties".

More specifically in this instance, it's all about passenger trains and forget the investor owned Class I industry that would be obliged to host them.

In the Cut Bank quotation, I won't dispute the economic cost/benefit (spend $57M to gsin $327M) stated, but it totally ignores the effect upon BNSF operations. The Builder represents at least one train that cannot be dispatched and hence depriving the BNSF shareholder of added return on the investment made.

In the Marks, MO quote, it's the same argument. Now I realize this particular line is a "secondary" for the UP, in that their St. Louis Gateway traffic is routed from Dupo IL to Thebes, then Southward on the MP, or Northward on the SSW. But that "secondary" becomes quite handy when Ol' Man River decides the "gulp" is too much usually during Spring.

The thoughts are simply "play to our base, and to hell with the others".

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PullmanCo
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quote:
Originally posted by George Harris:
To the best of my knowledge this never happened pre Amtrak. The railroads considered a certain level of loss on dining cars as part of the amenities needed to attract passengers.

Not quite. One of the major purposes of the dining car department was to market for the freight traffic department. A good meal was considered an important draw in the days of ICC regulated tariffs. The railroad which had the best ride, the best food, and got you there on time was the railroad which got the shippers business.

Thus, some of the loss from food service could be charged off to publicity. Obviously, as the late days of passenger service approached, and especially after 1967 when mail came off passenger service, this was no longer valid.

Amtrak, not having a freight traffic department to market, has to Charge losses in the food service department somewhere.

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Gilbert B Norman
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An interesting Opinion piece appeared in this past Sunday's Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/28/opinion/sunday/millennial-dining-car-amtrak.html

Fair Use:
  • Riding the train is always a reminder of the things I don’t do enough: sit and talk with strangers. Spend time in a space designated for one thing instead of a multitasking hub designed to be everything all at once. Slow down. While the train is often the fastest way to my destination, it’s also the most leisurely. And these days, leisure can feel like an afterthought.

    Amtrak announced in late September that it would halt its dining service on long-distance trains, trading traditional dining cars — the more luxurious version of the cafe car I sat in as I traveled home that harried evening — for “flexible” and “contemporary” dining options. While the change will only affect certain East Coast one-night routes, it ignited a conversation about all that is lost in an attempt to have more: more privacy instead of sitting next to fellow travelers, more time to do things more productive than waiting for a meal, more quickness and ease. The desire to “lure a younger generation of riders,” cited as part of the reason for the change, is an example of what feels like a message from society to millennials in particular: We’re going to offer less and expect you to get more out of it.
Since this member of the "Silent Generation" is simply too far removed from the Millennials, I submit without further comment.
Posts: 9388 | From: Clarendon Hills, IL USA (BNSF Chicago Sub MP 18.71) | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Ocala Mike
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I wonder if they served a special "Adios Drumhead" overcooked flatiron steak in the diner on the Silver Meteors tonight. Last day for meals on the Meteors.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Are there any reasonable and practical ideas here that can be applied to the latest incarnation named "Flexible Dining"?

New York Times

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  • From disposable headphones and plastic cutlery to food scraps and toilet waste, the average airline passenger leaves behind over three pounds of garbage, according to one estimate. To get travelers and airlines thinking — and talking — about that rather large pile of trash, a British design firm has refashioned the economy meal tray, replacing plastic with renewable materials such as coffee grounds, banana leaves and coconut wood.

    Jo Rowan is the associate strategy director of the firm, PriestmanGoode, which has spent more than two decades applying design thinking to the air travel experience, including airport lounges and cabin seating.

    Now, she said, the firm is turning its attention to the less “glamorous” side of things.

    “Onboard waste is a big issue,” she said. “Knowing that you have four billion passengers per year, it all adds up very quickly.”..

Posts: 9388 | From: Clarendon Hills, IL USA (BNSF Chicago Sub MP 18.71) | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
yukon11
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Amtrak's "onboard waste" just might be all the contemporary menu food that its passengers are unwilling to eat.

Richard

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yukon11
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A petition:

https://is.gd/KaPDBs

I hope Amtrak isn't headed back to the "railroad pie" days.

Richard

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Gilbert B Norman
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Richard, here is the most recent petition being circulated by a NARP member (figures!) at change.org.

There is a fellow who posts at another site who says he will order a dinner and, then rather than eat it, will heave it in the trash in full view of the Attendant.

I did that once, but not involving comestibles. There is an auto wash rack that sold discounted coupons that never expired - well until they suddenly decided they had expired. They said they posted notice, but I never noticed it. So I ended up stuck with eight some of them (about $100). I made it my business to tear 'em up in front of the cashier and then heave 'em.

Also, as an aside, I've found other places to get a "deluxe" car wash. Lexus offers "freebies" if you bought from them. However, let's just say "you get what you pay for".

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PullmanCo
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quote:
Originally posted by palmland:
This what you had in mind, George?

 -

UP had a similar plate, called the Connoisseurs Breakfast.

--------------------
The City of Saint Louis (UP, 1967) is still my standard for passenger operations

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