Other major airline caterers include Chelsea Food Services which is a subsidiary of United Airlines, Servair which is a subsidiary of Air France, and Emirates Flight Catering which (you guessed it) is owned and operated by Emirates and serves up 192 tons of beef annually.
As the pattern dictates, the largest producers of airplane meals are owned by the airlines; the major exception is Gate Gourmet who was associated with Swissair until its 2002 bankruptcy. These catering facilities are often located inside or nearby the airport to make for easy storage and distribution.
Interestingly, since these airline catering companies cannot be in every airport city, a lot of competitors are forced to buddy-up. For instance, Chelsea Food Services (United Airlines) currently holds contracts with Gate Gourmet and LSG Sky Chefs (Lufthansa).
This means that depending on your departure city you could be flying with Emirates and be eating United's grub, or be on a United flight and get served Lufthansa's latest creation.
In North America, Australia, and Europe most airlines enforce strict rules about leftover airplane food. Some airlines go so far as to fire any employee who is caught taking food off of the plane. Even more extreme, ground-workers caught with leftover alcohol or cigarettes can be charged with smuggling.
Fact: Some regional and national policies require leftover food to be incinerated upon disembarkation--burn those mushy carrots!
These rules are especially enforced on international flights in order to comply with a given country's agricultural and border laws. For instance, in America the FDA and USDA are responsible for enforcing these rules.
Under more lenient policies, leftovers can be shared amongst airline employees such as mechanics or maintenance personnel, so long as the food never leaves the airport. Generally, leftover airplane food is only allowed to leave an airport when arrangements are in place for it to be donated locally.
Like any great contraband, airplane leftovers are turning up illegally. Throughout India, smuggled airplane food and other items are appearing at local markets. These items range from sealed 1-litre bottles of Tropicana to miniature alcohol bottles, all selling for a fraction of market value. These items are reportedly being stolen by employees or taken from airport dumpsters.
Fact: At the Indian "Airplane Food" Black Market, 1 litre of Tropicana sells for 32¢ USD (Rs 20).
Myth: After some careful research, I found nothing to suggest that airplane food is stuffed with stuff to stuff you up. Moving on.
Although airlines such as Etihad and Turkish have introduced "Flying Chef" services on long-haul flights, these services are generally reserved for premium class flyers. These in-air chefs are able to personally tailor dishes, but are limited by the small galley kitchens, lack of stove tops, and the inability to use standard cooking items like knives or frying pans.
In other words, even with a chef onboard, foods must still be prepared on the ground and cooked in the same steam pressure oven as everything else--5 Star Mushy Carrot?
Haven't our diminished senses been trying to tell the airlines something? Perhaps like oil and vinegar, airplanes and 5-star cuisine just don't mix. Is being served "meh" really so bad? I for one enjoy the mediocracy of plain ol' plane food.
Am I alone in this fight? At 35,000 feet, is gourmet even possible? Let us know your best in-flight dining experience, or any other myth-busting airplane food facts.
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