Sunday, September 21, 2014

Airline food is looking better!

A la Carte selection on Air France by LENÔTRE
Denigrated, ridiculed, yet eagerly anticipated! Airline food is a paradox of expectations where one looks forward to a meal that one would never consider in a restaurant. It is a popular subject: Google “Airline food” and you get 100+ millions results … a hundred millions! There are dedicated web sites like showing thousands of meal pictures sorted out by airline, class of service, special meals and even historical with meal pictures from the 50's and 60's (makes you appreciate today's offering!).

Ok, so we know that food taste bland at cabin altitude, up to 8000ft/2,400m, and low humidity, typically 5-10%, and that hundreds of meals industrially prepared up to 12 hours before departure, then re-heated on-board can't possibly compare to a freshly made dish in your favorite restaurant. Add to that weight and cost limitations, and above all, food safety that must be absolutely flawless ... considering all that, good airline food is nothing short of a miracle!
The convergence of game-changing technology and market trends is greatly improving airline meals. On the tech side, the new generation of airliners, Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus 350, made mostly with composite material instead of aluminium, feature lower cabin altitude and higher humidity, although even the 20% provided on the Airbus 350 is still far from the optimum 40%-60% environment. The meals will taste much better!

The defining change will be market-driven by airlines selling meals on long-haul flights rather than providing them free, like low-cost airlines Air AsiaX and Norwegian with the added bonus of more taste on Norwegian's 787 Dreamliner on their new long-haul routes! Or legacy airlines offering a premium choice option in place of their basic free meal with prices running as high as 28 Euros on Air France for a LENÔTRE meal served complete with the first class salt and pepper shakers. See the Air France A la Carte menu.

With the consumer now paying, and thus choosing their meals, airlines are likely to offer increasingly better meals to compete in the market and to increase revenue from economy class passengers. The premium meals profit could exceed the net margin of some economy tickets!

Keeping in mind that the free basic meal is merely included in the ticket price, I like the choice of buying a simple or fancy meal from the airline, or not! On a night flight I might prefer to eat before leaving and go right to sleep while, on the hand, on a long day flight, a LENÔTRE meal would be a nice extra to break the monotony. Or, if the selection offered is unattractive or a poor value, I might just pick up a fresh salad box before boarding as airport food selection and quality has also greatly improved … Gatwick Airport comes to mind where so many choices are available.

Oh! And don't waste your money on fine and expensive wine. At 8000ft cabin pressure and 5% humidity, a strong-bodied everyday red will probably have more taste, and it will put you to sleep just as well!

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