Airline F&B services are always up for debate — how bad is too bad, and how luxuriant can it get
When I read about Air India planning to introduce gourmet thalis on their flights, it got me thinking about inflight food. At one time, travel was a luxury, with good food and drinks as much part of the experience as hot towels and inflight entertainment. Today, technology may have advanced but with cut throat fares and hectic schedules, who has the time to relax, let alone enjoy that food and drink? On one hand are tiny seats designed to make Thumbelina feel like Goliath. Once wedged in with the chair in front firmly wedged onto your nose, it’s hard to even think of anything else. And on the other hand, good moolah can buy you a first class gastronomic experience you’d otherwise fly miles for — all at 35,000 feet above Earth. These fun things only happen at business or first class.
Trawling a website, I chanced upon food and beverage offerings guaranteed to make low-cost flyers weep into their soggy paneer pakodas. Qantas, it said, consults with Aussie super-chef Neil Perry and 16 sommeliers and mixologists for its onboard repasts, while Cathay Pacific channels the Mandarin Oriental’s skill to feed its first class passengers freshly-cooked free range organic scrambled eggs. Singapore Airlines serves only vintage champagnes – Krug or Dom Perignon, and food on hand-crafted Wedgewood china. Emirates serves the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, and end its meals (teriyaki-marinated duck breast with curried apricot and apple chutney anyone?) with Louis XIII cognac, vintage port and a selection of gorgeous cheeses.
Do delicious food and wines matter that much? If it did, why do airlines serve tasteless cardboard more often than not, I asked Rishad Minocher whose experience as a chef includes airline kitchen work too. He explained how difficult it is to produce a meal that tastes as good in the air as it does on the ground. Taste buds and your sense of smell get affected while flying due to low air pressure and humidity, so selecting quality food and beverages for flights is quite different from the usual, he tells me. “Of course, a good meal makes you feel pampered and appreciated, and you feel you’re getting your money’s worth. Quality food and drink are an important part of a premium travel experience,” he says, and sure, he’d be happy to enjoy it himself if he had an endless supply of money. But a Grand Cru wine on the ground may not taste like a Grand Cru wine in the air, he warned.
Nonetheless, frequent flyer Seema Jaising believes a good inflight meal is important to the whole experience. However food is usually “processed, packaged and cold. Flying itself is such a cold experience you don’t want cold food. A good meal served at the right time will ensure you land happy,” she says. I couldn’t agree more. Hope those Air India thalis are good.