Airlines revamp in-flight menus, from vegan meatballs to cream puffs

Allowed: Singapore Airlines

The aroma of in-flight food once again wafts through the cabins at 35,000 feet.

From vegan meatballs to cream puffs, airlines are offering new options and old favorites to entice returning travelers. Like peak tourist season fades away And with inflation weighing on household and corporate budgets, it’s even more important for airlines to pull passengers in than usual.

Food on the plane, a favorite travel suddenly For comedians, it’s hardly the top reason travelers choose a carrier – price and schedule are much stronger factors. But it could be a comfortable creature on a plane and could go a long way toward winning over passengers, especially those willing to pay for premium seats, analysts say. .

“Food is one of the most tangible signals of what an airline thinks about its guests,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel consulting firm Atmosphere Research Group and a former airline executive. your goods.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought most food and beverage services on board flights to a standstill as tourism has collapsed and airlines limited cabin crew contact with the virus. passengers to avoid spreading the virus. The pandemic has prompted airlines to come record loss and ask them to find ways to cut costs wherever possible, such as in-flight food.

As travel returns, airlines around the world are rolling out new menu options. Selling alcohol, with several new ready-to-drink options, is back on board in passenger compartments in the United States. And masks are now mostly optional, removing an obstacle to food and beverage service on board.

As tastes change and airlines face supply chain challenges, your back-seat tray table meal is making a comeback – with some tweaking.

Chasing high paying tourists

A better in-flight menu could enhance an airline’s image and help it attract more high-income travelers. First and business class customers are becoming an even bigger prize as airlines try to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic.

Because “the motive to win the premium passengers, the motive to spend more money [on food] Steve Walsh, partner at management consulting firm Oliver Wyman in transportation and services.

However, the cost of food and drink only accounts for about 3% of the cost of a full-service airline, he estimates.

Allowed: Singapore Airlines | American Airlines

While food is sold in many domestic passenger compartments and is often free on long-haul international flights, many of the new services are aimed at those in the premium class, where there are fewer passengers and the service is also available. more complex.

Numerous videos have been posted online by airline passengers, detailing the meals, ingredients and services. Popular staples like Biscoff and Stroopwaffel cookies attract loyal followings and are expected by many visitors. Menu or service flaws are amplified by frustrated travelers on social media.

A bonus: Delta is serving passengers on long-haul international flights a new custard tart mixed with Belgian chocolate, cherries and spiced biscuits called speculoos, known in North America as speculoos. Biscoff cookies.

“Clearly it’s an homage to Biscoff,” said Mike Henny, executive director of onboard services for Deltas.

In higher-end cabins, such as Delta One on international flights, passengers can make their own banh chung with their choice of fillings, including Morello cherry sauce, water chocolate sauce and speculoos cookie crumbs.

Ice cream on Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Air Lines

Delta in July said sales rebound in premium products and seats with wider legroom than sales from standard vehicles – adding impetus to introduce new and exciting food items .

Last week, the airline said it was teaming up with James Beard Award winner Mashama Bailey, head chef of Savannah, Georgia-based restaurant The Gray, for “Southern-inspired” meals. on flights out of Atlanta for domestic first-class passengers. Delta One passengers flying out of the hub internationally can also pre-order items from Bailey’s menus.

Airlines have for years partnered with celebrity chefs to design their menus and have recently worked more with local businesses. In February, American Airlines brought Tamara Turner’s Silver Spoon Desserts’ Bundt to its domestic premium cabins.

Veggie and vegan

Even before the pandemic, airlines were expanding options for travelers who like vegetarian and vegan meals. Now, these types of alternative dishes are being looked at more closely.

“Pasta isn’t always the solution,” says Delta’s Henny.

Singapore Airlines, which operates some of the longest flights in the world, brought in Southern California-based luxury spa Golden Door to develop dozens of recipes for its in-flight menu. Golden Door’s executive chef, Greg Frey Jr., focuses on veggie dishes that he says are among the best for in-flight digestion.

“I think people are, rightly so, concerned that they won’t feel full with this vegetarian meal and [think] ‘I just need this piece of meat.’ And in the end… you really don’t need that much protein when you’re sitting on a plane and relaxing,” he said. It’s not like you’re lifting heavy objects. “

An hour later, you’re not going, “Ugh, I wish I didn’t have meatballs.”

Greg Frey Jr.

Chef at Golden Door

Frey developed a fungus Portobello The meatballs “are served with dairy-free risotto made from vegetable broth. The mushroom balls are steamed and served with the heirloom tomato sauce: “There’s not a single piece of meat in it,” he said.

“It’s so satisfying and you get all those umami flavors,” he says. “The best part is that an hour later, you’re not going, ‘Ugh, I wish I didn’t have the meatballs.”

Supply chain quiz

Greens and salads are one of the hardest dishes to serve on board.

Airline chefs have to make sure the ingredients are tough enough to withstand shipping and refrigeration, making stronger greens like kale a better choice than some of the more delicate varieties. .

“We have to be very selective about the greens we offer,” said American Airlines spokeswoman Leah Rubertino. “For example, Arugula is not our friend.”

Rubertino said the airline is offering salads on more flights than it did before the pandemic.

The airline is also now offering a “fiesta bowl” with rice, quinoa, black beans, cauliflower, corn and zucchini as a vegetarian option in many first-class cabins for domestic flights.

Airlines are trying to source more vegetables locally, giving their catering companies fresher ingredients and cutting shipping time and costs.

Singapore Airlines since 2019 has been using greens from AeroFarms, a vertical farm near Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Spokesman James Boyd said the airline plans to source from other vertical farms near the main airports it serves in the coming years.

Vertical Farm at Aerofarms in New Jersey

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

Once the ingredients are sourced, there will be the challenge of serving meals to thousands of passengers – made more difficult only by the wide supply chain and shortages of labor and sophisticated ingredients.

Airlines have struggled to staff in a tight labor market, as have airport catering kitchens and other vendors.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t have a problem with the supply of pillows, blankets, plastic cups, plane food,” American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said on a quarterly call in July.

Delta’s Henny said the carrier will gradually return food to reduce the stress of serving.

“We knew we couldn’t just flip a switch,” he said. “We had to be very creative at the height of the pandemic.”

As catering expands, airlines are encouraging travelers to order their meals ahead of time so carriers know what to bring on board, whether it’s a special religious meal or other dietary restrictions or just their favorite food in first class.

Meanwhile, some flight attendants still have to do with what’s on the plane.

Susannah Carr, a flight attendant for a major airline and a member of the flight attendants’ union, told CNBC that if the cabin crew doesn’t have an on-board vegetarian meal for a premium passenger, “We’re going to have to make sure we don’t have a vegetarian meal on board for our premium class passengers.” maybe take a few more salads and make them a bigger salad” and pair it with a cheese plate.

“We definitely got good at ‘McGyvered,’” she said.

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