Let’s face it; airline food is as tasty as our memories of school cafeteria lunches sometimes. We all like to complain how insipid, even gross, airplane food is, especially when you are squeezed in economy class for eight hours trying to feel happy about a boxed meal. Though eating gourmet level food at 30,000 feet are the perks of flying business class and first class, things are changing for the better up in economy kitchens these days. In an interview with Slate, Brian Berry, Delta’s director of on-board services, attributes the positive evolution of airline food to two things: financial pressures that forced airlines to stop serving free food and consumer demand for healthier options. Before the turn of the millennium, “customers had an expectation of getting food on the plane, and post-9/11, as we moved into the recession, that just wasn’t going to happen in the economy cabin.”
Thanks to all those customer complaints about airline food, rising competition and some savvy chef alliances to the rescue, airplane food is experiencing a long overdue upgrade.
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For starters you may have noticed there are now the vegetarian-friendly, Mediterranean- inspired snack boxes being sold in economy class. The “Eats Tapas” box on Delta and the “Tapas Snackbox” on United include fancier items like a pepper and artichoke dip and a Parmesan cheese spread. Are you completely over salty peanuts and stale chocolate chip cookies? JetBlue’s transcontinental flights from New York-JFK and Boston to San Francisco, Los Angeles-LAX and Long Beach, sell freshly made meals for the health conscious traveler that beat rubbery chicken. Try the spring greens and kale salad with cannellini beans, dried blueberries and cranberries, quinoa, and grape tomatoes with white balsamic vinaigrette. On JetBlue, you can also purchase their, ahem, uplifting “Pump Up” box which usually features hummus, crackers, olives, and nuts. JetBlue also offers a bag of crunchy roasted fava beans that have become a word-of-mouth hit.
According to the editors at Conde Nast Traveler, Alaska Airlines’ Cascade Brisket Chili is some of the best airplane food out there. If you are lucky enough to be travelling from Seattle in economy class, the three time James Beard Award winner from Seattle, the chef Tom Douglas is now serving up some of his hearty delicacies on two and half hour or longer flights as a purchasable meal. And leave it to Richard Branson’s smarts to repackage small food portions into hipster tapas on Virgin America flights. These small nouvelle cuisine treats are complimentary to Main Cabin Select flyers and for sale in the main cabin. Their seasonal menus have featured healthy edamame and ginger tartar with ponzu dressing, mozzarella and roasted tomato with capers, Lebanese chickpea salad, and Spanish chicken and artichoke salad.
Flying to South America any time soon? If so take advantage of a free and tasty economy class breakfast on Chile-based LAN Airlines’ long-haul routes. Say goodbye to cold and hard bagels with sugary jam and buenos días to a breakfast of Latin American meats and cheeses with a side of seasonal fresh fruit and a hot berry muffin. Like LAN’s partner airline, Brazil’s TAM, it pairs comfort food favorites with South American dishes and robust wines from some of their destination cities. Save room for the dulce de leche and buen viaje!