The Trouble with Airplane Food
Flying, to many, represents freedom, infinite possibilities and ingenuity. However, when it comes to airlines' food preparation, it is the limitations (not the possibilities) that are truly endless. In an article on Forbes.com, frequent flyer Jay Wacker reveals the plethora of obstacles which make preparing good airline food such a challenge.
For one, airline cooks are preparing food for a lot of people. Wacker compares it to preparing food for a wedding, which is a challenge in itself and often results in sub par food. Additionally, airplanes do not have true kitchens and so food must be prepared in advance, transported and kept hot, a challenge which brings quality down even further.
The flyer explains that the task of keeping food hot is more of a challenge than you might expect. Cooked foods must be able to take consistent heat until they are served because airplane kitchens don't have the capacity to actually cook food or to reheat food from refrigeration. You'll often see dinner served at 4 p.m. or close to take-off because the food will only break down with time and additional heating. If food must be served later in the flight, the meals are packed into an oven where heating is inconsistent.
Safety also must be top of mind when creating flight food. Foods or preparations that could lead to any sort of food-bourne illness are avoided and often, safety gets in the way of taste. Similarly, creativity and complexity of airplane food is halted because it must be prepared for so many types of food allergies and preferences and because of tight budgets. Wacker recalls that one airline's decision to eliminate black olives from a salad saved them 3 million dollars a year.
In a 2012 NPR article, Alaska Airline's Chef Clifton Lyles also explains that the atmosphere itself, when flying, can cause food to taste worse. The pressurized cabin and the dryness of the air can cause flyers' taste and smell senses to become numb. In fact, according to the chef, flyers lose between 20 and 30 percent of their senses of taste.
Marry all of this with the fact that many flyers are not at their happiest when flying and therefore not at their happiest while eating. Some are hesitant about flying or annoyed by security and the boarding process while others are simply uncomfortable in their seats. At a wedding, good feelings may make the food taste a bit better, but on an airplane, the opposite is often the case.