MUMBAI: Air India has been compromising on the quality of milk served on board certain long-haul flights. For the last 10 days, instead of uploading milk sealed in tetra packs as was the regular practice, Air India flights from Mumbai used unpasteurized milk procured from local vendors. These are filled in used plastic bottles and uploaded onto the aircraft for flights from Mumbai to the Middle East, Newark and London.

Under the new practice, 10 litres of fresh milk procured from local vendors are uploaded per flight. But most of it is left unused despite the demand as flight attendants opt not to serve it. Due to the time difference between production and consumption, airline food is supposed to undergo strict quality checks for possible microbiological contamination. “Unlike milk in tetra packs, which can be served without boiling, this milk needs to be boiled as it is not pasteurized,” said a flight attendant requesting anonymity. AI aircraft have no microwave ovens in economy class galleys, so crew use those in the executive class, but not all requests for milk can be attended to. Besides, older planes like the 400-seater Boeing 747 aircraft have only one microwave oven per aircraft. “Every flight is an ordeal these days as it is not easy to turn down passengers,” the source said.

An Air India spokesperson denied the allegation, saying Air India procures milk in tetra packs from reputed vendors. “However for the cereal service, milk is procured by caterers in closed containers. We don’t procure anything in used plastic bottles. We have microwave/hot cup facilities on board to heat the milk and also there are enough facilities to keep the milk chilled. All precautions are taken to avoid any contamination,” the spokesperson added.

TOI has copies of flight catering receipts which say that no tetra packs were available and so milk in plastic bottles has been uploaded. Further, the only heating equipment in the economy class are ‘hot cups’, gadgets which dispense hot water for beverages. “One can’t pour anything other than water into these because of the heating equipment within,” said a cabin crew member. But there is no lack of ingenuity. “We usually empty cola cans, clean them and pour in milk. The cans are then immersed in the hot cups filled with water, the only way milk can be heated,” said the crew.

When tetra packs were in use, the average milk consumption was 6-7 litres on five-hour long flights like Mumbai-Jeddah, and higher on routes to London, Newark. While it was especially sought by passengers travelling with infants, other passengers have not been affected as the airline dispenses sachets of dairy creamers for tea and coffee.

The tetra packs were reportedly stopped as Air India defaulted on payments to the milk supplier.

source: times of india