Airline Food

I think we can all draw from the recesses of our minds memories of many, bad, down ride unusual along with absolutely fabulous meals onboard aircraft.

This writer can recall a vegetarian offering on a flight between some pacific islands as being some boiled carrots on top of some reheated frozen peas!! But, then again he can remember the days of business class in Lauda Air where your steak sandwich was cooked to order on the flight!

This same writer can remember above average numbers of hard stale bread rolls, rice that has been dehydrated and fried around the edge of the container in which it is served.

Most recently I can recall the most magnificent type of Gulf State seafood biriani served on Emirates airlines on the sector Dubai to Moscow

Airline meals are meticulously planned well in advance, right down to how many cherry portions go in each fruit cocktail. That’s because every ingredient counts -- American Airlines saved $40,000/yr by removing a single olive from each of their in-flight salads. Often, food is tested in-flight, because cabin pressure affects your palate. The lack of humidity dries your nose, and as a plane takes off the change in pressure numbs one-third of your taste buds. Even the sound of the engines affects how you perceive taste -- loud/ constant noise further deadens your tongue.

Safety standards and space constraints mean your food’s made on the ground, near the airport. Big players like LSG Sky Chefs, in the U.S. produce 15,000 bread rolls every hour (24hrs a day, 365 days/yr), and 30,000 sandwiches a day. As a rule of thumb, food is prepared 10 hours before it gets eaten. Those “Made Fresh!” stickers are there to taunt you. It’s not ready-to-eat by any means at this stage; generally, chicken is cooked 60% of the way, and steak 30% to done, with the final phase occurring onboard. Once pre-cooked, (at kitchens) it gets blast-chilled in special fridges -- in a not-quite-frozen-but-not-edible state, your food awaits transfer to the tarmac.

Meals then wait in their own kind of flight-specific gate lounge -- only theirs is refrigerated. If a flight’s delayed, and food has already been loaded onto the plane, airlines often dump the entire load and order a replacement shipment from catering. Costly and wasteful? Sure, but consider the alternative -- in 1992, an Aerolineas Argentinas flight from Buenos Aires to LA poisoned its passengers with cholera-infested shrimp; 76 people got sick and one person died. If a delay’s announced early enough, the food’s preparation is held off or, if finished, it’ll be frozen. Many airlines insist their pilot and co-pilot eat different meals to minimize the risk of them both getting sick.

Flight on time? Food on the plane? Time to finish the prep-work. Contrary to what most people think, planes generally don’t have microwaves. Your little tray makes its way into a convection oven for about 20min. Convection ovens have a fan (which pushes hot air onto the food) that's both faster and means a lower cooking temp.

Ever wonder why an inordinate number of people drink tomato juice on planes? According to a study conducted by Lufthansa, bogged-up sinuses are caused by the altered air pressure, leaving most people craving acidity and saltiness.