Ever wondered how airlines pull off serving mile high meals to hundreds of hungry passengers on every flight?
Planes aren’t the most spacious environments, and staff must contend with everything from turbulence during service to how altitude affects our taste buds.
As a result, most of the food you enjoy at 30,000 feet has been prepared on the ground, tailored to ensure it reaches your tray table on time – and tasting good.
Run by Newrest Catering, the space sees 350 employees working like a well-oiled machine to produce a staggering 4,500 meals a day on an industrial scale.
Chefs cook up each component in giant vats and ovens in batches, before everything is transferred to a chiller to cool down.
Next, the food is taken to a ‘plating room’ which is kept at 8C, with workers adding ingredients to containers by hand in an assembly line.
Staff have a ‘golden sample’ plate to copy from as they go, with meals tested and inspected time and again to ensure portions and flavours are just right.
Roughly 90% of the food made at the Newrest facility is for BA – they provide the airline with 52,000 bread rolls, 47,000 desserts, 20,000 bottles of sparkling wine, 45,000 of red wine and 20,000 cans of beer every single week.
These dishes will be served on board within a day of being prepared, but this differs depending on the carrier and caterer used.
Alongside British Airways, Newrest also works with Air Mauritius, Air Transat, Delta and Vueling, while companies like LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet serve other airlines.
Menus are carefully devised to work with the dry air on board, where spicy and salty foods tend to taste best. This is the same reason some flight attendants prefer to take their own healthier snacks travelling.
‘You lose about 30% your tastebuds, so we have to factor this into our cooking,’ BA’s executive chef Mark Brega explained.
‘Generally, British food is very good, but it has a light flavour profile, so spicier, more aromatic dishes tend to work better. Buttered chicken or chicken tikka masala are among our most popular dishes.
‘The same goes for wine; some of which taste brilliant on the ground but can taste awful in the air so it needs to be tested.’
You won’t catch the captain and co-pilot of your flight eating the same thing either. Each dine on different meals in case one is contaminated, while smelly foods like fish are often avoided altogether, as their pungent aromas can quickly fill up a cabin.
The flight attendant secret every traveller should know
Cabin crew travel for a living, so we tend to trust their advice on making the most of our trips.
And one flight attendant’s top tip could prove invaluable, especially if you’re travelling alone.
Esther Sturrus, who works for Dutch airline KLM and shares TikToks about her journeys, says you should always throw a water bottle under the bed when you arrive at your hotel room.
Although unlikely, tourists can be targeted by thieves or intruders, especially on lower floors.
According to Esther, her hack lets you ‘check that no one is under the bed without looking’, easing your mind if you’re wary.
She advises rolling the bottle under the bed, adding that it ‘has to come out on the other side’. If it doesn’t, better exercise caution.
Cleanliness and safety are crucial both at the prep stage and on the flight, so if the worst happens and the catering carts don’t chill food properly, crew must find other options.
When staff on a BA flight from the Caribbean to the UK stopped off in Nassau and picked up KFC chicken for passengers following a fault, a spokesperson said: ‘Our teams sprung into action and made sure our customers had something to eat.
‘We apologise to customers that their full meal service was not available and we had to wing it on this occasion. We’re sorry if we ruffled any feathers.’
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