When Airline Spend Really Matters: Measuring Roaches in Food as a Defect Rate

Having caught a good many United flights out of Denver over the years, it gave my stomach pause to learn that one of my hometown airline's food caterers, LSG Sky Chefs, has been warned by the FDA to clean up its roach problem. While some -- like my wife -- who fly only Southwest and are happy with peanuts might dismiss this as a humorous (and protein-enhanced) affair that impacts only legacy-carrier passengers, the entire event is actually a great example of the impact that suppliers can have on your brand. After all, it does not exactly make you feel like you're flying the Friendly Skies "after federal inspectors [find] live and dead roaches and listeria bacteria" at your carrier's food-service facility. Crunchy, perhaps, but not friendly.

According to the above-linked Chicago Tribune article, "Inspectors who examined the Denver facility found live and dead roaches 'too numerous to count' in several areas of the kitchen, including at least 40 live insects in the silverware station.The FDA said inspectors saw employees touching food with bare hands or while wearing unwashed gloves. They also noted problems with the building, including water dripping from the ceiling into utensil-cleaning areas and holes in walls that could house insects or vermin."

Before you all get hungry and head out for a bite after reading this, let's stop to think about the implications of this situation. I did some further digging and found that this facility supposedly does not serve United flights out of Denver (yet LSG does serve United in other cities, and in fact has been the recipient of various awards from United). In other words, the simple fact that United works with LSG at all -- even though not in a hub city in which it is the leading carrier -- has put the United brand at risk. Clearly, companies like United must invest more rigorously in supplier-performance and quality-monitoring programs at the local level if they're to avoid situations such as this -- not to mention surveying and actively monitoring potential supplier facilities that could impact their brand even if they're working with alternative providers. This is a supply risk lesson that extends well beyond overly salted and cooked crustaceans served at 30,000 feet.

Jason Busch

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