Last updated: 04:30 PM ET, Thu May 05 2016

Airlines Bringing Gourmet Food to The Skies

Airlines & Airports | Delta Air Lines | Josh Lew | May 05, 2016

Airlines Bringing Gourmet Food to The Skies

It's been stated to the pointe of cliche that airline food isn't exactly gourmet fare. The meal that the flight attendant puts in front of you is, most of the time, not unlike something you would pull out of your freezer and pop in the microwave after you realize it’s too late to cook anything proper for dinner. 

Better food than the competition

Legacy carriers have tried to step up their food games in recent months. All three have brought back snacks and refreshments on domestic flights (Delta never dropped them). This move was made, among other reasons, to help them define themselves as full-service airlines as they compete with no-frills ultra-budget carriers who don't offer any extras. 

Not all of the snacks are of the crunchy, salty variety. Delta, for example, has a Mediterranean-themed snack box that features hummus, olives and nuts. 

READ MORE: New Documentary Will Go Behind The Scenes of Airline Catering

New approach to airline food

Now, the Big Three are trying to bring their entire in-flight food strategies to a higher level. Again, this is an attempt to stand out above the ultra-budgets, but it is also to help these airlines compete with international competitors. Delta, United and American have aggressive expansion strategies, especially in the transpacific market.

The Asian carriers who fly these same routes are known for their quality meals, especially in their premium-class cabins. Singapore Airlines, for example, offers pre-flight meal orders for its premium class fliers. Passengers can “book a meal” online from options created by a panel of international chefs. Cathay Pacific, meanwhile, has teamed with chefs from the Mandarin Oriental to create its new in-flight menus. 

If they want to stand up to this competition, especially when it comes to premium class food, United, American and Delta obviously need to up their game. And that seems to be exactly what they are trying to do. 

Enlisting restaurateurs and chefs

Last fall, United Airlines decided to upgrade its premium class menus. This effort included adding gourmet dishes like roast duck and flatiron steak. 

Delta has been experimenting with using well-known chefs to lend their names (and recipes) to in-flight meals. One of the first of these branding experiments involved New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Hospitality Group, which supplied Southern-style ribs from its Manhattan restaurant Blue Smoke to some of premium class cabins on Delta’s transatlantic flights. 

READ MORE: Some Airplane Food Tastes Better Thanks to That Annoyingly Loud Airplane Noise

American takes the in-flight food upgrade to a new level

Now, American Airlines is expanding on this same idea. The Dallas-based carrier is bringing in multiple celebrity chefs to create menus for its premium class fliers. 

Premium-class menus on American’s domestic flights will be getting a makeover courtesy of Dallas-based chef Julian Barsotti. Barsotti operates three Italian eateries in the Dallas area that are known for their creativity and accessibility. 

Chopped judge and Nashville-based restaurateur Maneet Chauhan, who first burst onto the restaurant map by opening Vermillion in Chicago, will bring her “global fusion” cooking style to the menus of America’s outbound international flights. Premium class passengers on inbound flights, meanwhile, will get to try the creations of UK-based Michelin-star-holding chef Mark Sargeant. 

Meals created by celebrity chef and farm-to-table advocate Sam Choy are already being served on American’s Mainland-Hawaii routes. 

Only premium classes included (for now)

Fresh ingredients and airline food are unlikely bedfellows, but the new effort by American might change that, at least in the premium classes. In officially announcing the new partnerships, AA spokesperson Laura Nedbal promised that the menus would be unlike anything else in the industry. “We’re completely turning airline food upside down. All of these are going to be revamped and restaurant-inspired. We’re going to use local ingredients where possible.” 

For now, unfortunately, this in-flight food revolution is mainly focused on the premium classes (though American has said that it is “always evaluating” its food options in all classes). 

The menu upgrades are part of a strategy to offer unique experiences to premium class passengers. American has also been busy upgrading its premium class lounges at airports around the world. These improvements are meant to bring more value to first and business class and to help American (and its peers) compete for this small but very lucrative market.   


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.

Sandals Resorts: The 5-Star Luxury Included Resorts

Hotels & Resorts