Airline Food – Love or Loathe It

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My work brings me to all over the world, and part and parcel of these traveling is airline food. I am not referring to the gourmet stuff they serve you at business and first class. I am talking about the stuff you get at economy class.

I have worked in an Inflight Catering Centre during my school holidays to earn some pocket money. As part of my job as facility maintenance coordinator, my job is to make sure the paperwork are properly filled and records are transcribed (by WordPerfect) into the computer – yes those were the days before emails and Windows. Because the handwritings were not always legible, I had the pleasure to go the floor to ask the relevant people what they had written.

In the ICC were assembly lines not unlike your Foxconn factories in Shenzhen churning out iPads and iPhones. An empty tray moves along the line, utensils and cups were placed on it, followed by the usual water or juice. These trays were then moved to the food area to be further assembled.

Based on the flight segments, cakes and/or other savoury like salads or fruits are placed on these trays and then loaded onto trolleys ready for the planes. The hot meals (they were cold as ice at this moment) were also packed and loaded into the trolleys. They will be reheated in the plane. The temperature in this preparation area was constant at around 10-15 degC to keep everything fresh.

Hot meals were prepared elsewhere. Chefs cooked the food in large quantity and then the aunties will assembled them according to order. A veg placed on the right with a starch (rice or potato) in the middle to separate the veg with the meat on the left. It is a clever arrangement as the sauce on the meat will not mingle with the sauce for the veg during transport. Bread and cakes were baked in large quantity and then cut to portions. Rolls were put in bags and put aside.

It used to be prepared way in advance, these rolls and cakes. As such, I had traditionally put the bread and cakes aside. Nowadays, according to my airline friend, nothing served is more than 24 hours old. And the choices you get these days are more varied than before, and new techniques to prepare and present food are used. In flights to Japan, you get your cold soba noodles. In flights to Korean, you can sometime get Bimbibalb.

My favourite Economy caterer is Cathay Pacific CX. CX has consistently provided a good variety for different segments, and enough portion to fill. If SQ is a 1, CX is a 1.2 as they beat them in quality and variety. Next would be Air New Zealand simply because of the generous portions of steak and lamb chops they give on the meals. And they served the best wines. Overall they are better in quality, but SQ won in terms of consistency and variety.

SQ, my home carrier, is one that I have eaten the most meals.  I have tried almost every sector in and out of Singapore, and I would say that I can look forward to the same consistency always. This is especially soothing after a trip to a third world country, weeks of curry, or deprivation to simple fare. The worst from SQ is still better by a long measure than CI, MU, CA, etc.

Food aside, SQ service and the SQ girls are the primary reasons they are the yardstick of the luxury travel industry. While we bitch and moan about indifferent service to fellow citizens, it is usually a reciprocal of the behaviours of Singaporeans on board that  warrant that kind of service. Not that the SQ staff are rude or difficult, but when you treat them as equals, they will go an extra mile to make your journey more pleasurable.

So let’s not be an a**hole on the flights. Remember they are only doing a job, and you did not really pay a lot for the ticket.

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