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Step upon an aircraft and your sense of taste looses its bearings. Our bodies change in the air to adapt to the atmospheric pressures surrounding us, which in turn decreases our sense of taste  by about 30 % when we are at high altitudes. So as unnappetizing as airplane meals are, it’s not the food itself that deteriorates, but the body that is reacting to the high altitudes. The way we taste food depends 80 % on hot it arrives to our noses. Thanks to the filetred air conditiong, the mucus in our nasal passages get dried out, impeding our sense of smell. So it’s reasonalbe to expect food to seem less inviting on planes.

The science of airline food has opened a new front in the battle for passengers in the upper-class cabins. The Fraunhofer InstituteLufthansa has been able to study how to best pair sauces with foods according to science. In Great Britain, chef Heston Blumenthal has been working with British Airways and studying the perception of various ingredients in airplane meals.

A surprise to me- considering the days of airline food of any sort has all been deemed to packaged snacks and cans of soda. In todays world of nonexistent airline meals, any meal one gets is usually appreciated. But on the other hand, when one is flying on a flight which due to its length or class of service includes a meal, one expects a good one.  However, according to an article from The New York Times, the airline industry, which has been in steady decline for years now, is doing its best to improve its food offerings, at least for its elite class of passengers. First-class and business-class passengers are obviously a  much larger investment for airlines, and therefore will be rewarded a fine meal. According to the story in the NYT, business and first class account for about a third of all airline seats but generate a majority of the revenue. Keeping high-end customers is crucial to the bottom line.

The article continues with a compelling account of the great lengths airlines will go to attract an elite clientele: Hiring top chefs, controlling the ingrediets that are used in each meal (like Korean Air), raising their own beef, chicken and vegtables. However, like mentioned before, it is not just the quality of food that has given airline food a bad rap, but there is actually science that proves that our taste buds do not taste food as well at the elevation of a flight and the constant background noise on a plane. As discussed in a previous post, the sound of food does change your preception. Maybe buying those overprices headphones will make the food taste better.

Airlines, like Delta Airline, are also making the effort to bring the fine dining to your time spent waiting for your flight. The renovated and expanded domestic hub in Terminal C at New York’s LaGuardia airport will have fresh markets and five chef-driven restaurants. Renowned New York based chefs such as Andrew Zimmern, Andrew Carmellini, Anne Burrell and Aaron Sanchez will open full-service, exclusive restaurants.

I do hope all this focus on upgrading airline food will result in better food at 36,000 feet. One day maybe we will book flights on specific airlines-or even get to the airports extra early just for the food.

Did you know:

  • Alot of tomato juice is consumed on flights becuase it taste far less acidic up in the air than it does down on the ground
  • Airlines tend to salt and spice foods heavily and serve wines that are full bodied fruit bombs to mask the taste.
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