8 Growing Airline Food Trends to Savor
By Rita Lewis
Remember when the hottest airline food trends were chicken or pasta? If so, you’ll get a pleasant surprise on your next flight.
Airlines are fighting for more market share in a consolidating industry. One way they can set themselves apart is with inflight dining. Passengers want healthier, fresher options. They’re also craving foods with global influences.
Airlines are getting the message. They’re transforming onboard dining. In premium cabins, fliers now expect and receive fine dining of the quality they enjoy at top global restaurants. Even in coach, the offerings are much more interesting than just a few years ago.
Take a look at these 8 airline food trends to savor next time you’re winging your way somewhere.
Not long ago, complimentary snacks on North American flights were taken for granted. Then the era of cutbacks arrived. Premium passengers still received a custom blend of nuts or fresh small bites. But economy-class passengers grew accustomed to paying for onboard snacks or bringing their own on board.
Today, with U.S. airlines making record profits, passengers are asking for a return of complimentary snacks. Some airlines are paying heed. Delta and Alaska Airlines already offer them in economy class. United is also bringing back free munchies to thousands of flights in North America and Latin America. Passengers can enjoy breakfast cookies and a choice of savory snack mixes.
Will other airlines follow suit? This seemingly small gesture is sure to raise the question among other carriers.
Airlines are focusing on including more local ingredients in onboard meals
Eating local has become a key tenet for foodies. Now they can do so while they fly, in another of these emerging airline food trends.
Historically, international airlines have served meals that represent their region’s culinary traditions. To do that, they had to import and ship those distinctive foods all over the world. That’s so passengers departing from another country could enjoy them.
Now international carriers are sourcing local products from the locations they serve. This simplifies the process of obtaining food and offers travelers familiar dishes. Cathay Pacific offers both Chinese and Western cuisine and sources fresh, local ingredients. Cathay Pacific partnered with top chefs from Mandarin Oriental properties to update menus. Some examples: a full-bodied consommé with a tea bag of dried petals and gold flake, and a traditional presse of chicken, mushrooms and foie gras, infused with five spices.
Korean Air has a local flavor for every passenger’s tastes. It offers premium travelers Western, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean menus. Korean dishes like dongchimi noodles and ginseng chicken soup incorporate local products and flavors. The airline has won two Mercury Awards for superior travel catering.
With competition intense on profitable long-distance routes, airlines hope famed chefs (even Michelin-starred ones) will make a difference. One of the more prominent airline food trends has these chefs redesigning menus to help carriers carve out more market share. British Airways partnered with Heston Blumenthal, famed for his London restaurant Dinner in Virtuoso property Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park. Qatar Airways hired the master of Japanese fusion cuisine, Nobu Matsuhisa.
Chef Peter Gordon gave Air New Zealand a business class menu that showcases his country’s multinational fare. Think dishes like roasted salmon with sumac and Moorish chicken with saffron tomato broth.
Air Canada offers business class passengers seasonal dishes from Chef David Hawksworth. Among his creations: sushi-grade tuna tataki or tamari-roasted sable fish with bok choy. Enjoy Chef Hawksworth’s creations on land at Virtuoso’s Rosewood Hotel Georgia in Vancouver.
Organic. Non-GMO. Gluten free. Vegan. Whole grain. People today are aware of how their food was created and what’s in it. And they expect to have these choices in the air as well as on land. Carriers are responding to this demand, making healthier choices one of the bigger airline food trends.
United switched to gluten-free salad dressings in First Class. The carrier offers gluten-free soup on most flights in First Class, and snack boxes sold in economy feature gluten-free items. United also uses cage-free eggs in its entrees.
American Airlines has added more veggies to menus for its health-conscious passengers. The airline also offers entrée salads served with proteins on the side so passengers can enjoy a vegetarian or vegan meal.
Delta introduced healthier options from food maker LUVO, including fresh fruit and hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and vegetables and hummus wraps for lunch and dinner.
Your Own Chef
Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the luxury of an in-flight chef? If you’re flying on Turkish Airlines or Etihad Airways, you can enjoy meals crafted just for you.
Turkish Airlines offers a Flying Chef service to business class travelers on Dubai routes. More than 200 onboard chefs create weekly menus of international and Turkish-inspired cuisine with fresh ingredients. Travelers can request personal twists to the menus.
The ultimate in customization is for passengers booking The Residence by Etihad. They enjoy a unique three-room suite and their own onboard chef. The chef prepares a range of made-to-order gourmet meals or even a passenger’s favorite dish.
Where and how is fish farmed? Those are questions savvy diners are asking. And industry insiders report that airlines are asking more questions of their seafood suppliers in response.
Airlines are looking to the Marine Stewardship Council and its certification program for guidance. MSC certification means a fishery is well-managed and sustainable. Look for onboard menus to include the MSC Fisheries Standard designation for fish entrées.
Every restaurant offers small plates these days, whether they call them tapas, appies or starters. Passengers who love grazing on land are doing this in the air as well. They’re choosing items like hummus and pita chips or a fruit and cheese plate for their inflight dining.
The small bites craze also extends to the end of the meal. Maybe it’s shaving calories and waistlines. Maybe it’s their reasonable price. Whatever the reason, miniature desserts are a big trend. People can’t resist cute sweets like cake pops, tiny cupcakes and little macarons. As airlines assess limited galley space and look to improve meal delivery, expect small bites to show up even more on onboard menus.
U.S. restaurants will need to list calorie information on menus by the end of this year. Health-conscious passengers will start to expect the same from airlines. Industry experts report that Delta plans to list nutritional information on all menus this year.
By law, airlines flying from the European Union must provide allergy information for onboard meals. Flight attendants have ingredient details if passengers request it.
Later this year, EU legislation will require labeling of nutrition information and allergens on all pre-packaged foods and items prepared for airlines. Look for airlines to get ahead of this by sharing this information in onboard menus and other places before it’s the law. British Airways already addresses allergy information on inflight menus and in magazines as well as online.
How You Can Tap Into Airline Food Trends
Want to know more about the airline food trends you’ll experience while traveling to your next destination? Book with an expert Virtuoso travel advisor. You can find one here if you don’t already work with one.
If you’re interested in exploring a destination’s culinary landscape, find experts in food and wine travel here.
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