[THE INVESTOR] A dozen Asiana Airlines flights on July 1 took off from Seoul’s Incheon Airport without carrying meals for passengers. The incident marked the first time an airplane had left the airport without food since the airport opened in 2001.
Of the airliner’s total 82 international flights on the day, 81 suffered delayed departures and one was canceled. More than 30 flights were delayed for more than an hour. Twelve, mostly short-haul flights to Japan and China, departed without meals, and eventually offered passengers US$30-US$50 vouchers.
The unprecedented mistake happened on the first day of Asiana replacing its catering service supplier.
Asiana, the nation’s second-largest air carrier, was previously supplied with in-flight meals for its daily 30,000 passengers by LSG Sky Chefs, a catering company run by Germany’s Lufthansa, dating to 2003. But the two firms failed to renew their contract last year and Asiana decided to set up a new joint venture with China’s HNA.
But the new firm, called Gate Gourmet, faced delays in supplying the meals due to a fire at its production plant in March. After failed talks to extend the existing contract with LSG, the airline turned to Sharp Do & Co Korea, a small-sized catering firm that usually produces snacks and sandwiches, but it failed to supply the meals at the appointed time on the day.
Considering the new supplier is capable of producing meals for 3,000 passengers a day, industry sources say it could take some time for Asiana to stabilize the catering service.
In the meantime, Lufthansa’s LSG filed a complaint with the nation’s antitrust watchdog last year claiming that Asiana demanded it invest in bonds with warrants from the airline's sister firm Kumho Holdings in exchange for a contract extension. The firm said it refused to do so and Asiana chose not to renew the contract.
Following the failed talks, Asiana set up Gate Gourmet. The firm owns 40 percent in the firm, while China’s HNA bought Kumho Holdings’ 160 billion won (US$143 million) in bonds.
LSG said it had offered to invest in Asiana, not the holding firm, but the offer was not accepted. Asiana, however, denied any wrongdoings in the deal process.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)