Airlines don’t get credit for much these days, but a blessed few are finally recognizing one basic fact: Passengers are people too. It’s not just about shepherding us from Point A to Point B (though, duh, that’s kind of a given); we’d like to be marginally comfortable during the process. We would also like to consume food that doesn’t taste like a TV dinner, pre-Netflix.
Happily, some airlines are taking customer’s discerning palates into consideration, and thinking about dietary constraints beyond the “kosher meal.” That means: Gluten-free, fat-free, vegetarian and vegan fare, along with special menus designed by fancy chefs.
To that end, airlines are also becoming a little more charitable. United, for example, has linked up with The Trotter Project, named for the late celebrity chef Charlie Trotter, which mentors and up-and-coming chefs. Sixteen Trotter chefs have banded together to whip up new menus, and the results are quite tasty.
Virgin America has joined forces with ONEHOPE Wine, donating half the sales of wines sold aboard all domestic flights to benefit women’s heart health outreach and education.
So what can you and our taste buds expect the next time you cruise the friendly skies? Herewith, a few of our favorites.
In 2014, the Diet Detective saluted Virgin America for having the “healthiest food in the air,” and it’s no wonder. All of Virgin America’s menus are updated quarterly with
local fruits and vegetables, meats and fresh breads. The airline also lists all nutritional information (and not just calories) on its website, and they have “on-demand” eating. You simply specify what you want to eat and when you want to eat it, and it’ll be delivered right to your seat. Nice.
Virgin America has also partnered with gourmet grocers Dean & DeLuca to bring first class flyers a special selection of sky snacks. A sampling:
· Veggie wrap with white bean hummus, curry pepper lime potato salad, Major Grey’s chutney, arugula, carrots, English cucumbers and cherry tomatoes wrapped in a lemon cilantro tortilla.
· Artisan cheese plate with fontina brie and sharp cheddar cheeses served along fresh Gala apples, green grapes and gluten free sea salt and olive oil crackers.
· Protein Plate with a cage free hard-boiled egg, sharp cheddar and fontina cheeses, grilled chicken breast, red grape tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumber and wheat mini pits founds with edamame hummus.
Notice anything different about American’s meals? That’s right—the heavy sauces have gone the way of Senator Lindsey Graham’s presidential campaign.
As of August 1, passengers on all of AA’s domestic flights can find delicacies like anti- pasta skewers, romaine and kale salad, beef fillet with lobster mac and cheese, lentil chili with polenta cakes. The airline also added a healthy lunch option in first class: A salad with some kind of protein (say, grilled chicken), and in-season vegetables.
Business and first class passengers on trans continental trips (that is, LA to NY or San Fran to NY) can choose from menus with an Asian twist: Spicy Crab with Sushi Rice, Avocado and Wasabi Aioli (appetizer); Lobster Risotto with Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Lemon Oil and Parmesan Crisp; South American Peruvian Causa Yellow Potato West Coast Dungeness Crab Aji Amarillo Basil Cilantro Oil.
United has invested millions of dollars in its first and business class meals. Today, options are healthier. Tastier. More varied.
On flights less then four hours, you can now order steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast, paired with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt. Instead of sandwiches, there’s tandoori chicken with basmati rice and paneer.
On flights of four hours to five hours and 19 minutes (yes—really), you get three entree options rather than two. And oh yes: prosecco is available at both lunch and dinner.
But economy passengers won’t be left in the dust. Many of the items sold through United’s “Bistro on Board” are the direct result of the relationship between United and The Trotter Project. So, now you can munch on chicken chorizo bistro scramble ($8.99) or a Wrap and Salad Combo($9.49), and not feel too bad being in the back of the bus.
The folks at Delta care about your health, they really do. “We are moving toward this idea of offering healthful, nutritious, delicious food onboard an airplane in a way our customers are surprised by,” says spokesperson Michael Thomas. To wit: The airline partnered with Luvo to offer complimentary fresh wraps, salads and snacks in first class on certain routes.
On flights out of New York, passengers can dine on cuisine created by famed chef with Danny Meyer (Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, etc) and his Blue Smoke Hospitality Group.
The airline has an in-flight craft beer offering with beer from local watering holes. So, if you’re flying from Atlanta to New York, for example, you can swig beer from Sweetwater Brewing Company, the famed Atlanta establishment.
Qantas updates its first and business menus, designed by Aussie chef Neil Perry, seasonally. Late last year, the airline announced a completely revamped economy inflight meal offering, with meals that are, among other things, double the portion size. (Free range scrambled eggs on toasted brioche with Applewood bacon, avocado and Portobello mushrooms or Ricotta omelette with creamed leaks and chorizo for breakfast; Roasted Mirrool Creek lamb with broccoli, pickled carrots and salsa verde for dinner). Customers can also choose from healthy options, comfort food, and a meal inspired by the route itself (i.e., Smokey BBQ Beef for U.S. flights).
Most recently, the airline announced a new team of 16 sommeliers and mixologists from the Rockpool Restaurant group who will select wine, Champagne, spirits and other drinks for Qantas’ flights and lounges. Drink up, mates.
Qatar has teamed up with Michelin-starred celebrity chefs Nobu Matsuhisa (yes, that Nobu) andVineet Bhatia to create vegetarian, gluten free, low calorie, low cholesterol, and vegetarian raw meals that can be ordered at least 24 hours ahead of takeoff.
A first class sample: Classic Arabic mezze (hummus, tabouleh, muhammara and lahim bil agine served with arabic bread); Iranian mix grill (lamb chops, kofta and chicken tikka with broad bean saffron rice); and Stuffed spinach crêpes with mushroom, cheese and tomato sauce.
Incidentally, the airlines’ business lounge in Doha opened last May, and it’s one of the most decadent in the world. The Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge is over 100,000 square-feet and has two different restaurants, multiple bar and dining areas, a children’s nursery and playroom, a game room with Formula 1 simulator, a business center, quiet areas, shower rooms, and family spaces. There’s also a swimming pool, spa, gym, squash court, and in-terminal hotel for passengers in transit. You just might want blow off your flight altogether.