September 19th, 2013
10:45 AM ET
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Long gone are the days of ice sculptures and crepe suzette served up as a matter of course in first class cabins on airliners.

But what is presented to premium passengers can still rival some top hotels or restaurants, and can often act as a good barometer for the health of an airline's fortunes.

"When times get tough, food is one of the costs airlines can cut without jeopardizing safety," says Andreas Weber, general manager of airline catering company, Gate Gourmet.

"It has changed back and forth (over time); airlines go through crises," he says. "(Today) more airlines are investing substantially in their first and business class products. Making people comfortable in big seats, everyone is doing that already, but what is left is the catering experience."

Responsible for getting 15,000 meals a day onto planes departing Hong Kong International Airport, Gate Gourmet is well versed in meeting the demands of both airlines and passengers. It is one of three catering companies operating at the airport.

Erich Seifert, head of production at the facility that employs over 300 people, is often faced with demands for a particular meal for a first class customer at short notice.

"The customer is always right, we have to make it," he says, noting that special requests from airlines can come less than a couple of hours before a flight's departure.

Being able to react to last-minute requests for wagyu beef or whatever form the fancy of a passenger takes is down to a strict process - from taking delivery of fresh ingredients in the morning to rolling out the meals on trolleys, all plated up on trays ready to be served on an evening flight.

Read - Beef or chicken? How high-end airline meals are made

Previously:
Tainted food – a sticky situation for airline travelers
Andrew Zimmern's top airport dining spots
Airport food: the sumptuous and the scary
"Private" dining in the Denver airport
ABQ > LAX > SEA: a guide to layover eating

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Filed under: Airlines • Travel


soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Thinking things through

    I've never seen anything remotely looking as good as the pic at the top of this article, when flying. (And, these days it appears its only crackers or nuts, if anything.)

    September 23, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  2. jj

    They serve food on airplanes?

    September 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Santa Claus

      I worked in the flight kitchen for three days and quit. The chef in the terrance dinning room would make me anything I wanted. Sunrise to sunset 7 days a week.

      October 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  3. AmericanAir

    US airliner companies are bully pikers – pickpocketing their customers for every single little thing. Next up – buying tp for 25 cents a square or byotp along with your sandwich and drink.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  4. francoiseeats

    Great article! Although it doesn't surprise me that they pay extra attention to their premiere passengers, it'd be great to see airlines devoting a bit more time to making the food for all their passengers better – no more sad, sat-on-looking egg salad sandwiches please!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  5. RC

    Yup. It's all about cramming as many bodies as they can into that big tube.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  6. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Asian airline companies are the last of their breed when it comes to hospitality, food, and comfort. Something American airline companies have forgotten some 30 years ago.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Truth™

      I do everything I can to always book on Asiana. Worlds above the rest, and Seoul/Incheon airport is like a danged resort in itself.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:39 am |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        Incheon, I remember. It was like a mini-city

        September 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
        • Truth™@JDizz

          I love that you can take a free, private shower on the second floor of their international terminal. REALLY makes a difference on a 23 hour trip.

          September 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
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