Travel

The History of Airline Food

History of Airline Food

By Jon Whilst

For the last couple of years, major international airports around the world have been competing in offering the best entertainment and amenities, but not everyone needs a meditation/yoga room by their boarding gate or a four-storey slide to enjoy their time at the airport. Sometimes, all you need is a great food court and a wide selection of restaurants for you to unwind from the anxieties stemming from long airport queues and security checks. For some people, that meal before boarding might be their way of avoiding the notoriously unappetizing plane food, which is arguably the worst part of any flight.

However, not all in-flight meals are that bad, and history shows that flight operators did their best to uphold their food to the highest standards possible, as they catered to luxury travelers and society’s elite (the only ones who could afford to jet off around the world at the time). The Handley-Page flight from London to Paris was the guinea pig of plane food, serving pre-packed boxes for 3 shillings each, though it wasn’t until 1936 when United Airlines debuted onboard kitchens equipped to provide hot meals. Eventually, other airlines followed suit.

In a video that had children sampling 100 years of airline food, as shown on the food section of culture and lifestyle publication The Scene, chefs were really upping their culinary game in the 1940s with filet mignon and in the 1950s when caviar and assorted pastries were considered the norm on inflight menus. It was the golden age of travel, when planes were built with spacious cabins and powder rooms, and delightful meals were cooked in five-minute ovens. Truly a glorious time to travel, and the way that planes operated back then (from the food service to the comfort), you could hardly imagine any of the passengers dreading a flight with Pan Am and other airlines operating back then.

So what happened between now and then that has given airline food a bad reputation? Where did everything go wrong?

Accessibility of tickets soon became the priority over food quality, which led to the boom in budget carriers that charged passengers a hefty fee for inflight meals. In the 1970s, researchers also discovered that function in our taste buds is hindered, which would render dishes tasteless despite being seasoned properly. Thus, airlines would opt for salty stews or spicy curries to almost make up for the lack of taste, but failed as travelers responded poorly to the meals. For decades, people complained, while more companies scrapped free meals and overcharged on food and drink. It was only five years ago when they recruited celebrity chefs, like Heston Blumenthal and Carlo Cracco to improve on the airborne culinary offerings.

Oddly enough, some carriers did maintain the same level of integrity in their culinary experience, even in the face of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that prompted airlines to replace metal cutlery with plastic ones, and serve basic snacks like peanuts and soda. Qantas’ menu consisted of French delights and later expanded to incorporate Australian produce and international suppliers to provide samplings of global cuisines for their flyers.

Not every airline is as bad as the no-frills flights that consider food as the least of their priorities. But with passenger hubs around the world diversifying their culinary options, it’s only fair that airplanes deliver the same quality and taste on their menu.

In your opinion, which airline serves the best meals?

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