Sky High Fare

How air­line din­ing gets from the kitchen to 35,000 feet is a culi­nary ad­ven­ture

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Michael An­dré Adams

How air­line din­ing gets from the kitchen to your tray ta­ble at 35,000 feet is a culi­nary ad­ven­ture

For mod­ern day pas­sen­gers, par­tic­u­larly those trav­el­ing in first and busi­ness class cab­ins, a sat­is­fy­ing meal re­mains a top perk in this era of ris­ing fares and no-frills al­ter­na­tives. It all started back in 1934, when United Air­lines opened the first ex­per­i­men­tal air­port kitchen in Oak­land, CA. The trend was quick to catch on with the other air­lines, and be­fore long the pur­pose-built in­flight gal­ley was in­tro­duced aboard air­lin­ers. By the 1950’s – dur­ing what was then con­sid­ered the Golden Age of Air Travel – meal ser­vice was an amenity to which pas­sen­gers quickly be­came ac­cus­tomed.

En­ter the Con­corde in 1969, sport­ing liv­er­ies from Bri­tish Air­ways and Air France. Su­per­sonic ser­vice brought forth a new level of culi­nary distinc­tion for af­flu­ent trav­el­ers. But when air­line dereg­u­la­tion hit the US mar­ket in 1978, the qual­ity of food at sub­sonic speeds took a back seat in the minds of aver­age trav­el­ers whose pri­mary con­cern was lower fares. En­ter the era of“We hate air­line food!” Soon af­ter, culi­nary nit-pick­ing be­gan to spread through­out the in­dus­try with low cost car­ri­ers charg­ing for meal ser­vice in the 1980’s, while first class pas­sen­gers at Amer­i­can Air­lines sud­denly found their sal­ads one olive short – part of the air­line’s at­tempt to elim­i­nate a $40,000 cost cen­ter. Fast for­ward to the new mil­len­nium, with the in­tro­duc­tion of a bevy of cost cut­ting op­tions which re­sulted in a num­ber of car­ri­ers, both low-cost, no-frills and full ser­vice legacy air­lines, opted out of meal ser­vice al­to­gether on short haul flights, of­fer­ing light snacks in­stead.

Weird Sci­ence

De­spite the well-pres­sur­ized air­craft in which we travel, the hu­man body ex­pe­ri­ences changes in flight to adapt to its sur­round­ing at­mo­spheric pres­sures. This all has a def­i­nite ef­fect on our sense of taste. Per­haps this ex­plains the days past when many were re­pulsed by the thought of air­line food.

Ac­cord­ing to a study by the Fraun­hofer In­sti­tute for Build­ing Physics, our sense of taste de­creases by about 30 per­cent at high al­ti­tudes. The sneaky, air­craft cul­prit is fil­tered air-con­di­tion­ing, which dries out the mu­cus in our nasal pas­sages, thereby re­sult­ing in a de­creased sense of smell – a ma­jor fac­tor con­tribut­ing to de­sen­si­ti­za­tion of our taste buds.

To dis­cover coun­ter­mea­sures to these ef­fects, renowned chef He­ston Blu­men­thal at Bri­tish Air­ways stud­ied the per­cep­tion of var­i­ous in­gre­di­ents in air­plane meals to de­ter­mine the ef­fects and im­por­tance of color, sound, light and back­ground mu­sic on the per­cep­tion of sky-high meal ser­vice.

The re­sults were en­light­en­ing; it seems go­ing salty and spicy are the safest bets for a palate pleas­ing meal. How­ever there are many other fac­tors to con­tend with in the quest for gourmet ex­cel­lence in flight.

Among the most vex­ing are the pas­sen­gers, with their var­i­ous di­etary re­stric­tions; vege­tar­i­ans, ve­g­ans, pescatar­i­ans, a host of al­ler­gies, re­li­gious codes, lac­tose in­tol­er­ance, women who are preg­nant, heart re­lated con­di­tions re­quir­ing re­duced sodium, di­a­bet­ics, those with sup­pressed im­mune sys­tems and more. Sud­denly, the need to be all things to all people re­quires a well re­searched plan with plenty of in­flight test­ing.

For a start, con­sider that an in­flight gal­ley with its re­duced space and en­ergy lim­i­ta­tions is a far cry from mas­sive chefs kitchens where all meals are pre­pared hours prior to the flight. Then add the time it takes to trans­port those meals to the air­craft in con­tain­ers made to re­tain high heat; in­side is food whose pri­mary qual­i­fi­ca­tion for be­ing there is its abil­ity to with­stand pro­longed warmth with­out break­ing down. Now it’s easy to see why your per­fect meal in the sky is no mean feat to ac­com­plish on a budget.

For some, such as Ja­pan Air­lines, the sea­sonal so­lu­tion is sim­ple. Dur­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­days, lo­cals in Ja­pan par­tic­u­larly en­joy Ken­tucky Fried Chicken through­out the fes­tive sea­son. And while many of its con­tem­po­raries hold to the fre­quent use of hand-selected chefs, JAL has been tak­ing ad­van­tage and serv­ing KFC to keep it sim­ple and sa­vory.

Cater­ing to High-Fly­ing Tastes

In a busi­ness where lo­gis­tics rep­re­sents 80 per­cent of the chal­lenges, there are but a hand­ful who have ef­fec­tively mas­tered the art of the game and held a firm hand in it.

“Gate­group is the world’s leading in­de­pen­dent in-flight ser­vices provider,” ex­plains Doug Shack­le­ton of the culi­nary ex­cel­lence di­vi­sion. “Our 27,000 em­ploy­ees work across more than 160 fa­cil­i­ties and 32 coun­tries to serve more than 300 mil­lion people on the move ev­ery year. We of­fer a com­pre­hen­sive port­fo­lio of ser­vices, which in­cludes air­line cater­ing, pro­vi­sion­ing, on­board ser­vice equip­ment and so­lu­tions, dis­trib­uted food and bev­er­age so­lu­tions, and much more.” LSG Sky Chefs, an­other top con­tender in the air­line cater­ing ser­vice busi­ness, is an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized ser­vice provider with more than 70 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, serv­ing over 500 mil­lion meals an­nu­ally for more than 300 air­line part­ners in 52 coun­tries.

French cater­ing com­pany Ser­vair was launched dur­ing the era of French lux­ury in 1974 along­side Paris’Charles De Gaulle Air­port. Ser­vair re­mains closely aligned with Air France. Hav­ing a highly dec­o­rated, three-Miche­lin-Star name like Joël Robu­chon to serve as the di­rec­tor of the Ser­vair Culi­nary Stu­dio is one of many ways to up­hold a com­pany im­age. Robu­chon sets stan­dards that are strato­spheric, yield­ing

Clock­wise: United Air­lines, Bri­tish Air­ways, Swiss In­ter­na­tional Air Lines, Sin­ga­pore Air­lines

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