(Photo: Flickr / Amara)
We’ve all been there. You’re on the plane, you’re exhausted and starving and … you get a steaming pile of mystery meat for a meal. What to do? There’s three hours to go and your blood sugar’s running low. You have no choice. Like a bad flashback from your childhood, you have to eat what’s in front of you. Airlines are notorious for their foul meals, and for years flyers have logged their food rage on websites. But finally, we’ve been heard.
In an attempt to rebound from tough times and woo us back into their good graces, the aviation industry has finally focused on our culinary demands.
Here, eight of our favorite bites in the air.
Ever imagined noshing on a watermelon, feta, and basil salad at 35,000 feet? How about Angus burger sliders paired with maple bacon? The new premium cabin known as "Mint" from JetBlue will serve dishes from New York’s Saxon + Parole restaurant when it debuts next month. The airline will also break the mold with tasting and tapas-style menus at 35,000 feet in the new front cabin. Sorry to report that the rest of the plane is still stuck with those old Terra Blues potato chips.
Flying in “Mint,” JetBlue’s new premium cabin lets you eat like a New Yorker with food from Saxon + Parol. (Courtesy: JetBlue)
Your tastebuds do a number on you at extreme heights: sour gets even more sour and salty goes bland. This might be why Delta is leaning on notable chefs like Napa tastemaker Michael Chiarello, who crafted the airline’s new Southern Italy-meets-Northern California transcontinental menu. On flights from JFK to London, there’s Blue Smoke barbecue in the sky: Memphis baby-back ribs, North Carolina pulled pork. (You’ll also find an outpost of Blue Smoke at JFK’s Terminal 4.) Passengers in the back win out, too, with healthy wraps in flavors like Quinoa Crunch served free in Economy Comfort (and for a small fee to everyone else).
Finnair recently launched an Asian-inspired menu for its dozen daily flights to the Continent, prepared by hot Helsinki chef Tomi Bjorck. For the return flights, chef Pekka Terava of Helsinki’s Michelin-starred restaurant Olo is creating Nordic dishes—think reindeer fillet with mushroom puree.
Chef Pekka Terävä’s white asparagus soup with snails and green asparagus, served with warm bread. (Courtesy: Finnair)
On Emirates, you’ll find a majestic Arabic mezze spread—tabbouleh, kibbah stuffed with ratatouille, and fried halloumi cheese. And if you’re up front, the offerings get really good: Iranian caviar and lobster tails.
British Airways’ London to L.A. route is known as “The Red Carpet” for all the celebs who wing back and forth. Which is why the airline tapped the culinary team at the posh Langham London hotel to design a first-class tasting menu. Now, they’ll be noshing on artisanal pastries, seared scallops, and poached lobster, no less.
(Courtesy: Turkish Airlines)
Chefs in white toques greet passengers at the door on Turkish Airlines flights, and also work the aisles, plating food for passengers—and not just in first class. Flickering (electric) candles set the mood at each seat. But it’s the airport lounge in Istanbul where first impressions are really made: chef stations dot the double-height space and include a Turkish manti (dumplings) station and a pide (Turkish pizza) oven.
Japan Air Lines
We all know the Japanese are on top of all the latest trends, why is why Japan Air Lines is serving up comfort food like Kentucky Fried Chicken and custom burgers topped with carrot sauce (hmmm) and three kinds of organic vegetables.
These days, even picky eaters get a nod: Swiss, the world’s first allergy-friendly airline, is producing special gluten-free and lactose-sensitive snacks. Clearly, the way to a passenger’s heart is through their stomach.
Ramsey Qubein flies nearly 350,000 miles per year and is a regular contributor to BBC Worldwide and Business Traveler, covering hotels, airports, airlines, and loyalty programs.