Coffee, Tea, or ...?: A Markov Decision Process Model for Airline Meal Provisioning

Mark E. Lewis
Industrial and Operations Engineering Department
University of Michigan
1205 Beal Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2117

Jason H. Goto and Martin L. Puterman
Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration
University of British Columbia
2053 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z2

This paper develops and analyzes a finite horizon Markov decision process model for the airline meal provisioning activity focusing explicitly on developing policies for determining and revising the number of meals to upload.  Using annual daily data from over 40 flights, the paper shows that the optimal policies can result in both improved customer service and significant dollar savings, especially in long haul flights. It also applies the model to investigate tradeoffs between having too few and two many meals on a flight.