The truth behind aeroplane food

Christina Ricci
Christina Ricci
Economy class main meal of beef stir-fry with mango on Singapore Airlines.

Economy class main meal of beef stir-fry with mango on Singapore Airlines.

Take a tip from a man who has worked in airline catering for 42 years: if there's a curry on offer, take it.

''They get better with reheating because the spices have longer to marinate,'' the catering manager, concept development, for Emirates, George Banks, says. ''It's easier to digest, too.''

And, with taste buds diminished at 32,000 feet, the more complex flavours mean curries often make for a superior meal.

If they run out of curry before they reach your row, there's a simple reason. The airline takes on board one meal for every economy passenger, without extras. In business class, the odds of getting your choice increase, with 20 per cent more meals than passengers and, in first class, there are 50 per cent more.

If your meal choice is something recognisable and familiar, you are acting to form.

''All the market research we ever got says people, especially premium customers [business and first class], want simple, good and recognisable food and there was a quote we used to get, 'We want a salad that sits up and says hello.' In other words, they don't want a drab salad on the tray. It always came back to simple, good food.''

In the past 12 months, Emirates has flown 34 million passengers to 73 countries, which makes for a lot of menu planning. And jumbo-size consumption figures. During the past year, airline passengers have munched their way through 265 tonnes of beef tenderloin, 215 tonnes of prawns, 26 tonnes of lobster, 528 tonnes of basmati rice and 432 tonnes of fresh pineapple.

Menus change monthly and reappear three times over four cycles.

In business and first class, 493,000 bottles of champagne and 37,100 bottles of port have been consumed. Cocktails are out of favour, but wine isn't, with red (453,000 bottles) more popular than white (370,000).

And then there's water. ''Even 10 years ago you didn't give passengers a bottle of water,'' says Banks, who remembers the first time he saw them being put on planes.

''When I started work in 1969, I had a weekend job in catering at Manchester [airport] and I would load the trays for the Caravelle [aircraft] to Paris. They were the first to have bottles of water for passengers and I remember thinking 'how strange'.''

There's demand for low-calorie and healthy-option dishes, but it's less than 20 per cent.

Banks also checks what is ordered at the airline's 31 airport lounges, used by premium passengers just before boarding, around the world. Fish and chips is among their favourite offerings.

But lounge kitchens have their challenges, too. There is no gas for cooking - it's a big fire risk - and many airports ban knives.

Airlines use catering companies to make their food and Banks is currently working to standardise Emirates's meals across the globe. He wants a chicken tikka dish to taste the same whether it's made in Dubai or Dallas.

From: Good Living

This story The truth behind aeroplane food first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.