Whenever someone mentions airplane food, people’s faces tend to sour. Over the years, airplane food has developed a bad reputation and has often left people wishing that they could take homemade food on an airplane.
Airlines have been working hard to improve their customer experience. As such many are now focusing on their passengers’ dining experience and are overhauling their in-flight menus.
Why does airplane food suck?
The truth is, when you’re flying over 30,000 feet, your sense of taste and smell diminishes by 30 percent.
In a 2010 study led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, researchers found out why. The decrease in scent and taste is due to the lower the air pressure and humidity level in the plane.
Basically, it’s like you’re suffering from a cold –the body takes longer to transport odours to the brain’s sensory receptors.
And it’s tricky to prepare delicious food, hours in advance, and then transport it to the airplane before reheating it. “The biggest misconception is that airline food is bad”, said Gate Gourmet’s regional executive chef, Jeremy Steele, in a recent interview with news.com.au. Steele feels that the “challenge in creating hot dishes is that they must be able to reheat well on board the aircraft, so texture and consistency of dishes are very important.”
What are the improvements?
Airlines such as Air France, Delta Air Lines, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines are just a few of many working to overhaul their in-flight food and dining experience.
1 – Professional Chefs
Airlines have been overhauling their menus with the help of well-known and celebrity chefs.
British Airways partnered with celebrity chef, Heston Blumenthal, owner of multiple Michelin star restaurants, to help create their innovative menu. Blumenthal has appeared on numerous cooking shows and has designed meals for British Airways like mackerel rillettes with sourdough croutons.
American Airlines has also partnered with a culinary star: Maneet Chauhan.The chef and judge of the popular TV show Chopped, created a menu for passengers flying between Chicago and Delhi. The menu is inspired by bold Indian flavors and features dishes like chicken chettinad and kalonji aloo.
Airlines are starting to move away from their old ways of preparing in-flight food. In the past, celebrity chefs would consult on the menu’s creation but took no part in the physical cooking. Now, airlines are working with chefs who are partaking in the preparation of the food.
2 – Menu Variety
Along with celebrity chefs, airlines are beginning to offer passengers the option to select their in-flight meal ahead of time.
Singapore Airlines created their “Book the Cook” service, which allows passengers to book their meal ahead of time. Passengers can select their meal from an extensive list. It features chefs like Georges Blanc, so passengers can expect to be wowed with their in-flight meal.
3 – Tableware
After running a focus group, Delta discovered that food plated on nice tableware led people to find it more appetizing.
“You literally put the same entree in front of the customer, and you have different bowls and trays and colors,” said Lisa Bauer, Delta Air Lines vice president for onboard services. “If it’s an overall dish that looks like it is microwavable, they don’t think it’s fresh. Food scores much higher when people are presented with something that doesn’t look like it came out of a carton.”
As a result, airlines are investing, not only in their food but also in the presentation of their passengers’ meals.
What’s the Catch?
Now, you might be wondering to yourself, “what’s the catch?”
Well, while it’s true that airlines are enhancing their passengers’ dining experience, most airlines are only improving the menu for their first-class and business class passengers.
For many airlines, there are two main motives for revamping their first-class and business class menus:
Those that tend to fly in higher seat classes tend to be frequent flyers and make up about half of the airlines’ income. Therefore, it makes sense for the airlines to keep first-class passengers happy.
Offering a better dining experience might entice customers to purchase a more expensive ticket.
While providing passengers with an amazing dining experience could bring in more revenue, the challenge still lies in overcoming the negative reputation associated with airplane food.
“The challenge is for folks that haven’t flown in a while, or [that] haven’t had the experience, probably still have that legacy thinking of bad airplane food,” said Bauer. She says that the trick is to “have people get off the plane and say ‘wow, you won’t believe those meatballs I had today.”
And for all those people who won’t be flying first-class, there is another option. Most airports have various restaurants that you can order food from once you’ve passed security. Airlines will usually allow you to bring food onboard from these restaurants. And while it may not be a five-course meal, it might be better than the food served in economy.