Insight & Analysis

Airlines recreating in-flight meals: from ice cream sundaes to vegan meatballs

Published: Sep 2022

Airlines are offering new meal options together with some old favourites to entice returning passengers. They range from ice cream sundaes to vegan meatballs!

Trays of delicious healthy food on airplane

As the peak travel season starts to dwindle, inflation is weighing heavily on both household and company budgets, and it’s even more important for airlines to woo travellers.

Airplane food isn’t usually the top reason to choose a particular airline with the price and schedule being much more important. But it can be a creature comfort on board and can go a long way toward winning over passengers, especially those who are willing to pay for premium seats, analysts say.

“Food is one of the most tangible signals of what an airline thinks of its customers,” said Henry Harteveldt, Founder of travel consulting firm Atmosphere Research Group and a former airline executive.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic most food and drink services on flights ceased as travel collapsed and airlines limited their crews’ contact with passengers. With the pandemic came record losses for airlines and they looked to cut costs wherever necessary – this included in-flight food.

As travel returns, airlines across the globe are showing off their new menu options. Better in-flight food can boost a carrier’s image and also entice higher-paying passengers. First and Business Class customers are becoming even more of a prize as airlines try to recoup losses as a result of the pandemic.

Most of the new offerings are targeting premium classes and on long-haul international flights, Delta is serving a new ‘sundae-in-a-cup’ premixed with chocolate, cherries and spiced Belgian cookies called Speculoos, also known in North America as Biscoff cookies.

But even before the pandemic, airlines were expanding their meal offerings, in particular their vegetarian and vegan options. And as a result Singapore Airlines has brought in Southern California based luxury spa Golden Door to develop a range of recipes for its in-flight menu. Golden Door’s Executive Chef, Greg Frey Jr., focuses on vegetable-forward dishes that he says are among the best for digestion on flights.

Frey created a Portobello mushroom ‘meat ball’ dish which is served with risotto and an heirloom tomato sauce: “There’s not a lick of meat in there,” he said. “It’s so satisfying and you get all those umami flavours. The best part is an hour later, you’re not going, ‘Ugh, I wish I didn’t have the meatballs.’”

As the food service grows, airlines are strongly encouraging passengers to order meals in advance to ensure they get their favourite dishes.

However, it looks like some flight attendants will probably still have to make do with what’s already on board!

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