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How does airline food measure up to other travel food options?

BySteve Stones

Oct 18, 2018

Travelling is great, isn’t it? Heading off to find some sun, sea, and sand, or going to visit relatives, the journey can often be as much a part of the trip as the destination itself.

That is, of course, until lunchtime rolls around.

If you’re travelling by plane or by train, the food situation is often pretty awful. Airline food tend to conjure images of questionable meat floating in generic gravy, with a smattering of sad-looking veggies that will be poked at with your disposable cutlery for a while.

Have we made no progress with travel food innovations? We’re exploring trains, planes, and cruise ships to find out.

Train food

Everyone who has ever travelled a long distance by train knows how crucial it is to pack your own food. Unless you’re travelling in first class, crisps and biscuits and dry sandwiches are about all you can expect from train travel. And that’s if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your view), as many services have axed their on-board trolley services.

While many services are claiming a lack of sustainability is to blame for the reduced or removed trolley service, it’s probably down to a simple lack of business. There’s simply no reason to pay so much for a sandwich or packet of crisps on-board the train when the same, if not better, food exists a throwing distance from the train at a slightly lower price. Train stations are filled to the brim with all kinds of outlets, and it’s not just Burger King and WHSmith on offer now. For many of us, it’s no trouble to pack our own food and bring that with us or grab something on the way to the platform.

With a first-class ticket, you will be able to have some drinks and snacks, and perhaps even a meal included in the price of your ticket. But as the Telegraph posits, the array of food often doesn’t come to much, and when you consider the price difference between a standard and a first-class ticket, you’re technically paying for the food you’re eating and then some. In fact, The Tab’s Annie Lord tried to make a profit from her £49.00 first-class ticket via eating and drinking the complementary food. Two hot drinks, six gin and tonics, one apple juice, one Pepsi, one cake, one bag of nuts, a bag of crisps, a piece of fruit, a salad, and a few snacks later, Annie made a profit of £5.65. A victory?

Cruise ship food

It’s possible that due to the lack of popularity in travelling by boat compared to airline travel that we simply don’t hear as much about its food offerings. Or perhaps it is because space isn’t so much an issue on a ferry as it is on a plane or train — you tend to find a good array of restaurants and food services on a ferry. The quality isn’t so much an issue as the price, with many advocating taking your own food with you in order to avoid the ever-present expense of travel-based food.

Aeroplane food

While we have the technology to speak to people in real-time anywhere in the world, to look at street-level maps, and to search any information in a split second…we still can’t cook a palatable meal in the sky. We’ve not only sent men to the moon, we presumably fed them on the way there and back. How hard can it really be?

Then again, trying to cook so many meals, so high in the air, in such a tiny space must be difficult. The largest independent airline food provider makes 685,000 meals every day, says The Guardian, giving a whole new meaning to ‘fast food’. It’s not that airlines don’t have the capacity to serve pomegranate-glazed lamb or chilled prawns with an aioli tarragon sauce. In fact, back in the 1950s, before the dawn of flight classes, meals were ridiculously flashy, with charcuteries featuring in the aisles of the then-smaller planes.

Airline services realised they had an opportunity in their hands. They could split flight classes and offer this lovely grub to the first class flyers, and less-expensive food (or none at all) to economy class. Even with technology like sous-vide allowing for food to be vacuum-sealed and slow-cooked to keep it tasty even when cooked in the air, technological advancements in airline food don’t often filter down to economy class plates.

In truth, the higher quality of airline food is achievable, it’s just a matter of it being a selling point. The huge variation between economy class food and first class is designed to encourage people to want to pay more and upgrade their seat. For those with frequent flyer points, many choose to spend their points on seat upgrades rather than a free ticket, and as Business Insider notes, a flight costs an airline more than fancy food does.

The fact is that airline food doesn’t have to be awful. You just need to pay a lot more to get a ticket for a spacious seat and a larger drink than those tiny cans of single-mouthful Colas.

Sources:

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/best-airline-food-airplane-gate-gourmet

https://www.cuisinesolutions.com/about-sous-vide/

http://uk.businessinsider.com/why-airplane-food-is-getting-better-2016-1?r=US&IR=T/#for-the-rest-of-us-sitting-in-the-economy-cabin-our-trays-still-look-like-a-middle-school-lunch–if-were-even-offered-a-lunch-at-all-16

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/jul/04/airline-food-flights-of-fancy

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/comment/first-class-train-carriages-in-the-uk/

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/jul/11/food-to-rail-against

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/20/derided-british-rail-sandwich-privatisation-catering-public-ownership-chiltern-railways

https://thetab.com/uk/2017/11/23/i-tried-to-eat-and-drink-my-way-into-making-a-profit-from-a-first-class-train-ticket-53876

https://totstotravel.co.uk/blog/the-complete-guide-of-essential-tips-for-travelling-on-ferries-with-kids/

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661355/final-sea-passenger-statistics-2016.pdf