Why JetBlue sometimes runs out of fresh food to sell

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If you follow me on social media, you know I recently visited JetBlue's flight kitchen near Los Angeles International Airport. I mainly focused on food for Mint - JetBlue's fancy business class - but I learned something new about the 'Buy on Board' product in economy.

We've all been on airplanes in which the crew has run out of fresh food items within the first few rows. That leaves everyone else hungry and upset.

I asked Nicole Huang, JetBlue's manager of product development, why this happens. The first reason, she said, is because airlines want to limit waste. At JetBlue, all non-shelf stable items are made fresh daily. Whatever doesn't sell on each flight is thrown out. 

But that's only part of the reason.  Airlines are adept at using analytics to predict outcomes. That's part of the reason many carriers - though not JetBlue - can overbook flights. They know with a reasonable degree of certainty how many customers will fail to show up for a flight.  Huang's team can use data in a similar way. JetBlue knows on what routes it sells the most food. It knows what types items sell well on each flight. And it knows what time of the day is most popular for food sales.

With all that data, airlines should rarely run out of your food choice, right?

But there's one data point Huang can't control. Huang said if the flight attendant is a natural salesperson, the food will go quickly. If not, the food may not sell at all. 

Since who is selling the food is outside of Huang's control, there's no mathematical model she can use to predict sales.

Now you know.