13 Surprising Facts About Airline Food

There's no sitting on the fence when it comes to airline food. While flying, it's something we either  eat out of necessity or with delight.

The latter is becoming more common, with many airlines drastically improving their mid-flight offerings. Instead of slimy chicken we now receive pulled pork sandwiches. And forget the cheese and crackers; your chocolate souffle has arrived.

British Airways is one such carrier at the fore of this positive meal change, making the company's Head Chef & Menu Design Manager, Mark Tazzioli, an industry expert on airplane food.

Here are some of the most surprising facts about in-flight meals we encountered from a recent Q&A with Mr Tazzioli.

British Airways food British Airways is one airline committed to improving the in-flight dining experience as much as possible (Image: British Airways)

1. Food Does Taste Different In The Air

"In the air you lose on average 30 per cent of the ability to taste, so we do a lot of work focussing on every individual ingredient that we pick. We look for suppliers who will give us great provenance and we can work with and develop ideas with.

"My team have completed a lot of work on the sauces this year ... to achieve more depth of flavour and more body in the air."

2. There Are 250 Total Dishes Available At One Time On British Airways

"There are 250 dishes on a cycle in all classes, but throughout the seasons we're constantly developing and refining dishes.

"We change the menu four times a year, so we change all the route specific dishes, all the standard menus and the afternoon teas."

3. Different Regions Mean Different Menus

"We cater for around 18 regional menus, such as for China and India. We spend a long time making sure our recipes are authentic ... and concentrate on what our customers want.

"For example, with Japan we spend a lot of money on the rice and even put the brand on the menu. On flights from the UK, we try to use British produce ... for lamb we use English lamb and in First we use Aberdeen Angus beef."

British Airways food Depending on your flight route, you might have the choice of Asian cuisine (Image: British Airways)

4. In-Flight Meals Are Plated To Order

"Now, in Club World, British Airways is spending a lot of time and money on new plates and ensures the food is warmed up and plated by the crew, like in a restaurant.

"We make what we call 'chef's hats', which are step-by-step guides on how to put the dish together, which are on every flight."

5. All Vegetables Are Marinated

"We've worked a lot on taste, all sorts of details on what we're buying. It's important to us because it makes a difference in the air.

"The team here also worked a lot on vegetables this year. Boiled veg, especially at altitude, is going to lose a lot of its taste.

"All our veg is marinated so it has more flavour and depth and not just a roast carrot – it's a roast carrot with cardamom or other spices, just so it brings everything to life a little bit more."

6. Meals Don't Need A Test Flight

"We do (test) sometimes, but most of the time because of our experience it isn't necessary. We know how tastes change in the air and what flavours do and don't work well.

"We have a new device called the viscosity meter, which measures how much a sauce will run depending on time and heat, so we can test them first on the ground."

British Airways food Marinating vegetables gives them better flavour (Image: British Airways)

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7. British Airways' Signature Dish Is Quintessentially British

"Our traditional signature British afternoon tea, which is served in Club World, includes sandwiches, cakes and Cornish clotted cream – and English strawberry jam. We offer a similar afternoon tea service in World Traveller.

"If you go to any hotel or tea shop in the UK, that's what you'll get, so it's only right that we serve it on our flights."

8. Gluten-Free Meals Are On The Rise

" About 10 per cent of our total dishes served are ‘special meals’, where a customer has a particular dietary requirement and pre-orders a meal to suit their need.

"We offer a range of different options on board including gluten-free, diabetic, lactose-intolerant, vegan, halal, kosha and a child’s meal.

"Of those, gluten-free is by far the biggest climber in terms of popularity. I think it’s becoming more of a lifestyle-choice for some people. "

British Airways food British Airways' signature dish is the British afternoon tea (Image: British Airways)

9. Indo-Chinese Cuisine Might Be The Next Big Meal Trend

"A certain age group are still looking for authentic Indian cuisine, but in the next three or four years the age demographic will change slightly and so will the taste.

"In India now, the younger generation are far more into Indo-Chinese food and looking at other cultures and flavours. So, at some point our menus will have to mirror that. It’s our job to get that timing right."

10. Steak Is the Most Popular In-Flight Meal

"On our transatlantic routes it’s definitely steak. It’s also the most pre-ordered item."

11. New Menus Are Created Six Months Ahead

"We develop our menus six months ahead, so we work very closely with procurement to keep an eye on the markets and to get the best products for the best price we can.

"We completely change the menu four times a year for seasonal changes and within that season we may change 50 per cent of those dishes within those three months."

British Airways food Passengers can pre-order their meals before flying, and all meals are plated to order (Image: British Airways)

12. You Can Pre-Order Up To 30 Days Before Your Flight

"You can now pre-order your in-flight meal between 30 days and 24 hours before your flight departure to guarantee your choice once on board.

"This service is available at no extra cost for many of our flights from London Heathrow, when you’re travelling in First, Club World and World Traveller Plus."

13. Don't Expect Oysters On Your Flight

"There aren’t many things we can’t do, Oysters we can’t use – or anything raw, so no real sushi such as sashimi. Years ago we tried ostrich but that didn’t work – it went as tough as old boots!"


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Ben Stower

I love the kind of travelling that is one part strategic planning and two parts spontaneous adventure. Whether I'm exploring my local city or a small town in the middle of nowhere, I'm always hoping to find something no one else has discovered.