On a recent trip to Europe, my husband and I experienced airline food. This is, of course, not a first experience with airline food, as I have been on several long flights in the past. This flight, however, was a little more than just snack food.
After starting off with a “refreshing towel” to clean up a bit, we were greeted with the usual appetizer of peanuts and pretzels, as well as our choice of beverage. This is pretty standard on most domestic, and perhaps some international, flights. On the trip over to Europe, which was during the dinner hour, we were served a “dinner box”. We had our choice of ravioli or chicken, which were served in small little tins that were heated up. Accompanying this entrée was cheese and crackers, shrimp cocktail, some salad and bread, and a piece of chocolate.
Meals like this are typically on international flights, and some domestic flights (mostly first class and business class). Now lest you think we were either at a restaurant or serving some gourmet meal at home, need I remind you that this meal was on a airplane, meaning that everything comes in small packages.
Gone are the days when airline passengers were served full course meals on real china. That’s right. Back in the 1930s, when airline travel first became a commercial and efficient means of transporting people from one place to another, airline food was pretty classy. Not many people traveled on the flight, so it was easy to feed the small crowd. Teams of chefs worked tirelessly to create elegant meals. Passengers felt like they walked into their own dining room.
In subsequent decades, as more and more people used airline travel, the airlines had to slim down the food service to accommodate the growing number of passengers. Little by little, the gourmet meals were replaced by processed food in a variety of forms and packaging.
Fast forward to today. Gourmet food is trying to make a comeback in some flight classes, but many airlines either charge extra for that food service, or increase the overall cost of the airline ticket to accommodate the food expenses.
How does airline food stack up against the six principles of positive food experiences?
Reason #1: By it’s nature, much of the airline food is processed.
Many of the foods we ate on the airplane claimed to be organic or otherwise used fresh ingredients. However, the food was not as fresh as it could have been. There was not a direct link from farm to table. Once the food is cooked, processed, and packaged, it gets delivered to the airport and loaded on the plane.
The food then needs be kept hot or cold (depending on the food item) until the flight attendants are ready to serve the meal. The whole process takes several hours. Nowadays, airline food has a long way to go to regain the farm to table status of freshness and quality.
Reason #2: Unless you are flying with someone, there are no effects of the people around you on the food experience.
Unless someone comes up to you and says, “Eeeeewww, gross!” or “Wow, that looks delicious!” (neither comment is very likely to occur), there is not much of a people influence. It’s similar to eating alone.
Reason #3: The trip is not necessarily conducive to the food experience.
You’re in an airplane. What more can we say? You’re flying with several hundred other passengers. People are wearing ear buds or headphones. They are watching a movie or listening to music. They may be chatting with their neighbor. Perhaps they are reading a book or magazine. People don’t on the food. Food is more of a passive occurrence rather than the main event.
Reason #4: You need absolutely no culinary skills to eat an airline meal.
There is nothing that you yourself create or cook. My husband and I certainly analyzed the food experience in terms of our own background knowledge with food (i.e., the freshness, the ingredients), but there is not much actual food knowledge needed.
Reason #5: Other than eating the food, there is little if any interaction with airline food.
Unwrapping the item from its packaging probably doesn’t count. Perhaps you are commenting on the food. Maybe it is a new taste that you have not previously experienced. The food may briefly catch your attention for a comment or two, but that is the extent thereof.
Reason #6: You may see less than stellar quality food on the airplane, and that motivates you to do something different.
Depending on the contents of the meal, perhaps you have the motivation to eat healthier. Under the circumstances of eating airline food, you are clearly not eating as healthy as you could be (unless you are bringing in food from the airport food court or restaurant). Perhaps you want to give up certain foods or to eat differently (choosing not to eat GMO food, choosing to eat vegan or vegetarian, etc.). Maybe you want to create your own recipe.
Overall, airline food does not generate a positive food experience. At the same time, that’s not the intent of airline food.
Airline food is basically something to eat en route to your destination. It’s not designed to be an experience in and of itself.
That’s not to say that airline food cannot or should not be healthy. It can be part of an experience for you, but at this point in time, it’s probably the main experience.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Considering your own airline travel, what have you experienced in terms of food? Have you had a positive food experience?