Fine Dining at 30,000 Feet: Why More Airlines Are Offering Gourmet Meals from Celebrity Chefs

Photo: Courtesy of Air France

Airline travel is great for many things: long-distance transportation, disconnecting for a while, and getting incredible views of the world below. Dining options, on the other hand? Not so much. Often the butt of jokes (like school lunches), airplane food is known for being unappetizing, lacking in variety, and (to add insult to injury) costing a pretty penny these days. Sure, you can order kosher or vegetarian meals, but you're pretty much stuck with a snack box or hot mush. But, as airlines look to stand out from the crowd, more and more are providing meals worthy of a Zagat rating.

In early March, Air France will partner with a celebrated culinary mastermind who will be designing the menus in La Premiere (first class) and Business class cabins on flights from the United States to Paris. "Our vision is to provide passengers with experiences that redefine the in-flight experience, and outstanding culinary experiences are essential because of their global appeal," Eric Caron, Vice President and General Manager USA, Air France KLM tells Oyster.com. "Air France and KLM has partnered with internationally-renowned Michelin-starred chefs for several years now, but we continue to expand our program with partner chefs across all cabins of service because the response from passengers has been enthusiastic, and demonstrates a real demand for quality culinary options on board."

And Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group recently announced it's expanding its food service on Delta Airlines and will provide Chef Carmen Quagliata's Union Square Cafe food. "We want passengers to say, 'This is great food' — not, 'This is great food for an airline'," John Harenda, vice president of operations for USHG's catering arm told the New York Times. A Delta rep added that the airline is hoping to change the conversation around what airline food is.

Singapore Airlines also expanded its "Book the Cook" program -- where you can decide 24 hours before take off what you're in the mood for and the meals include local ingredients from your destination -- to Premium Economy passengers. "Customers can choose their culinary favorites and still have a variety of options because the menu changes every couple of months," James Boyd, VP of PR ​for Singapore Airlines tells us.

Other airlines provide similar services where handcrafted and decadent meals are provided. Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, and Etihad Airways use catering company DO & Co's “Flying Chef” to provide gourmet food options and an onboard oversight of food presentation for business class passengers. 

Photo: Courtesy of Air France

This arms race of added amenities and perks suggests airlines are using food as a way to attract more customers. Frequent flyers are often faced with limited food options that quickly become repetitive and suffer from the-same-old thing syndrome. "Other airlines are following suit because passengers today are increasingly discerning when it comes to what is offered to them in-flight, and no longer want to accept the notion that airline food has to be bad," adds Caron.

The airlines are certainly going above and beyond to make sure they're staying ahead of the crowd. "Twice a year we have chefs present their 'runway collection' of concepts for the airline," adds Boyd. "We're trying to meet the requirements of fine dining establishment in New York or Los Angeles and incorporate that sensibility into fine dining during flight."

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