Airlines Fight For First Class With Food … Umm, umm, good

Excerpted from WSJ, “Cooking Up Ways to Improve Steaks on a Plane” By Scott McCartney, Jan 20, 2009

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Competition for first-class passengers is more heated than ever in the global recession, and sometimes it boils down to whether the soup is hot enough. International airlines are beefing up food spending as a differentiating draw for premium customers — even U.S. airline spending on food has increased recently

U.S. airlines that fly internationally increased their spending on food by 8.5% — the biggest increase in any category besides fuel … The same airlines cut labor expenses and maintenance expenses in the same period and slashed advertising more than 22%.

Many airlines, domestic and international, hire famous chefs to help create in-flight menus and lend cachet to airline food … Profitability for long international flights hinges on selling business-class and first-class tickets for thousands of dollars … Food is a crucial variable.

“Nobody complains about what kind of fuel you buy, but food does get a disproportionate share of comments … Airlines fly the same kind of planes — either a Boeing tube or an Airbus tube. What’s different is the service and the food, and that’s where we try to excel.”

The focus on food may seem a bit bizarre for travelers who usually travel domestically — and in coach. Food service on airlines has soured for many travelers after years of cost-cutting …  Even in first class, meals on many domestic flights are skimpier: Drinks and nuts are the typical offering on shorter trips …

It turns out you can serve a high-quality meal on an airplane, if you know how to overcome the huge obstacles. Because the dry air of a jet cabin dries mouths, taste is diminished in flight. So Singapore and other carriers exaggerate flavors in meals … High-quality airline food is prepared so that it can be reheated hours after its initial cooking …

Today, passengers want flexibility in meal service so they can work, watch fancy entertainment systems and sleep. And just as culinary arts have been raised on the ground, so, too, do passengers expect more from airline food …

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