Plane food: How it goes from the kitchen to your seat

  • 31/10/2019
Employees pack meals into containers at a flight catering facility at Novosibirsk Tolmachevo Airport.
Employees pack meals into containers at a flight catering facility at Novosibirsk Tolmachevo Airport. Photo credit: Getty

Getting plane food right is a difficult task - everyone has heard about a terrible in-flight meal, if they haven't suffered one themselves.

But to leave hundreds of passengers satisfied while several kilometres above the Earth is harder than you might imagine.

Our taste buds work differently when we're in the sky. Inside planes, the low humidity dries out our nasal passages and the air pressure makes our sense of taste less sensitive.

That's why airlines often serve salty stews or spicy curries. 

The people who make airline food often taste food and wine options onboard a flight before adding it to their menu, because of the variation in taste.

Additionally, it's logistically challenging and expensive to feed hundreds of people hours away from a proper kitchen and with no access to further supplies.

The Washington Post published a feature on Wednesday (local time) after visiting the washington branch of US plane food company Gate Gourmet which serves 18,000 meals onto 275 flights on a typical day.

That number rises up to 25,000 meals per day in busy seasons.

To get each meal prepared in time is an art, with timing being absolutely crucial.

"Each in-flight meal has to be timed perfectly in a 24-hour window to match its corresponding flight. Produce is delivered for just-in-time freshness," the Washington Post writes about Gate Gourmet.

"Food must be cooked and then blast-chilled, its temperature brought down for safety reasons. Employees must have your meal ready four hours before a flight departs and delivered onto the plane no later than one hour before boarding starts."

Gate Gourmet, like most plane food companies, tries to pair meals with the location of each flight - Thai food for flights to Thailand, French food for flights to France etc.

The company agrees with the science around how taste is different in the sky and so adds more salt, herbs and spices than usual to dishes.