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Airline Catering

What distinguishes good airline food?

Elbows pressed tightly against their sides, the passengers carefully try to remove the foil covering their in-flight meal. Trying not to spill the tomato juice can present quite a challenge to people who do not fly often. For Nik Loukas, eating in-flight meals has become a routine. He travels over 180,000km each year to review airline meals. In this interview he tells us about what he pays special attention to when it comes to airline food.

Nik Loukas. Photos: Nik Loukas

Mr Loukas, passengers often criticise in-flight food. Do you think the quality has changed in recent years?

I think so, and I think it has changed for the better. Airlines are investing more time and effort to prepare delicious meals for the passengers. Research commissioned by airline companies has found that our ability to taste is reduced by as much as 30 percent at higher altitudes. They are trying to mitigate this effect. The quality has definitely improved in the premium segment because the airlines are competing with each other and are trying to win over passengers. It is a different story in the economy segment. However, there are some airlines that are known for offering really delicious in-flight meals made using quality ingredients.

In your opinion, what characterises high quality in-flight catering?

What characterises in-flight meals for me are appearance and quantity. Then, I try the food to see if the presentation matches the taste. I rate the airlines according to the quality of the ingredients they use. I try to find out as much information as I can, sometimes I ask the airlines specifically for it.

What is important to you as a consumer?

In case of long-haul flights, I want a wide range of options, and a lot of snacks to be provided in between meals. On short-haul flights in Europe, I value choice, be it buy on board or free meals. I like airlines that tell a story through their in-flight meals. For instance, Swiss likes to present quality products from different parts of Switzerland, which makes for a nice story for the passengers, and it also provides some information about the food from the region. Ideally, in-flight food should be as fresh as possible.

What type of in-flight food is very popular?

This differs from airline to airline. Easy-to-eat meals, either fresh or frozen, are popular on short-haul flights. However, I have noticed an increase in non-frozen, temperature-controlled foodstuffs. These can help airlines reduce waste. Generally speaking, snacks and fresh products are quite popular. Pre-orders not so much, only 5 percent of passengers pre-order warm meals.

Nik Loukas works as a Training Manager and assists with training and product development workshops for airlines throughout Europe. He has been working in the airline industry for 15 years in different roles. Nowadays, he provides expert advice at industry events. His blog, Inflight Feed, reviews in-flight meals according to taste, quality, appearance, quantity, and originality on his numerous trips around the globe. The pictures on his blog also showcase the various selections that airline menus offer in the smallest of spaces.

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