In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It
In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Fresh and Local Ingredients Take Flight
Gone are the days of flavorless chicken, overcooked pasta, and soggy sandwiches in flight. Many airlines are now partnering with celebrity chefs and local farms to bring fresh, high-quality ingredients and elevated dining experiences to passengers cruising at 30,000 feet.
For example, Singapore Airlines works with renowned international chefs like Suzanne Goin and Carlo Cracco to design its Book the Cook program. This allows premium cabin passengers to pre-order gourmet dishes like seared Wagyu with wasabi mashed potatoes or pan-roasted sea bass with creamy polenta—a far cry from the usual reheated meals.
Scandinavian carrier SAS sources over 80% of its inflight food items from Scandinavian producers. Dishes feature things like smoked Arctic char, Swedish meatballs, and lingonberry jam. Even economy class meals feel like an authentic taste of Nordic cuisine.
While premium fare passengers tend to have access to the most refined dishes, overall there's been a push towards improving the quality, flavor, and variety of meals across all cabins.
What else is in this post?
- In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Fresh and Local Ingredients Take Flight
- In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Celebrity Chefs Bring Gourmet Cuisine to the Skies
- In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Why Airlines are Investing in Improved Dining Options
- In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - First Class Dining: A Taste of Luxury 30,000 Feet Up
- In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Enhanced Menus in Economy: More Than Just a Bag of Peanuts
- In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Shelling Out Extra for Tastier Fare is Worth the Splurge
- In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Premium Dining Packages Offer Culinary Exploration
- In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Upscale Amenity Kits Make You Feel Pampered at 30,000 Feet
In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Celebrity Chefs Bring Gourmet Cuisine to the Skies
As airlines seek to delight and surprise passengers, more and more are partnering with celebrity chefs to develop unique, gourmet inflight dining experiences. Bringing culinary masters like Gordon Ramsay, Nobu Matsuhisa, and Daniel Boulud on board adds an aura of glamour and exclusivity that passengers love.
For many globetrotting foodies, the chance to sample cuisine from a Michelin-starred chef is a major draw. Singapore Airlines has led the way, collaborating with acclaimed international chefs through its "Book the Cook" program. Top toques like Suzanne Goin of LA's Lucques, San Francisco's Carlo Cracco, and Singapore's own Sam Leong have all designed dishes for the airline.
Reviews of these meals have been glowing. One frequent flyer described their wagyu beef tenderloin with wasabi mashed potatoes, prepared by Suzanne Goin, as "the best economy class dish I've ever had." Another raved that the pan-roasted sea bass with polenta whipped up by Carlo Cracco was "as delicious as anything I've eaten in his restaurants."
Celebrity partnerships also allow airlines to provide cuisine that showcases cultural influences from their destinations. British chef Heston Blumenthal worked with Singapore Airlines to incorporate distinctly Singaporean flavors like laksa and chicken rice into dishes. For Air France, the legendary French chef Michel Roth brings his Michelin-starred cuisine to the skies through an exclusive business class menu.
While some airlines hire big-name chefs as brand ambassadors, others partner with them on pop-up concepts. For example, Air New Zealand teamed up with Peter Gordon of London's Kopapa to offer a special menu in December 2021 inspired by summer down under. Virgin Atlantic has previously worked with British chef Mark Sargeant for limited-time menus.
In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Why Airlines are Investing in Improved Dining Options
For airlines, revamping inflight dining isn’t just about pleasing pampered passengers – it makes good business sense. As competition stiffens, carriers are looking for ways to differentiate and provide tangible value to customers. For many travelers, food quality is an important touchpoint shaping their overall perception of an airline. So delivering elevated cuisine can directly influence customer satisfaction, loyalty, and recommendations.
Additionally, an actually-enjoyable meal makes the whole flight experience less tiresome and stressful. When we’re fed, watered, and content, we’re not counting down the minutes 'til landing or getting “hangry” mid-air. We arrive at our destination feeling pleasantly satisfied. This matters a lot on long-haul international routes where a quality meal service can make all the difference. Singapore Airlines, for example, has built its reputation around exceptional service, including its dining. Travelers seek out this “Singapore Airlines experience”, which has tremendous value as a brand differentiator.
Pre-booking gourmet cuisine also provides additional revenue. Singapore Airlines sells premium dishes in advance through “Book the Cook”, with prices up to $50 per meal. For a business class cabin with 40 seats on a 787 Dreamliner, that could mean an extra $2,000 per flight. While paid enhancements like premium booze, special meals, or upgraded amenity kits pad profit margins too.
When global culinary influencer Anthony Bourdain chose ultra-luxe carrier Emirates for his San Francisco to Dubai trip, it was largely due to the dining. He knew their A380 onboard lounge served high-quality charcuterie, cheese flights and Dom Pérignon champagne. For Emirates, this endorsement was worth far more than the cost of any individual meal. Having a “celebrity chef stamp of approval” generates buzz and makes their inflight dining experience feel exclusive.
In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - First Class Dining: A Taste of Luxury 30,000 Feet Up
For those lucky few flying in first class, inflight dining reaches spectacular new heights. While even business class menus have improved dramatically, first class cabins offer an unparalleled culinary experience that's every bit as refined as an upscale restaurant on the ground.
On many leading international airlines, courses arrive tableside, plated to order by white-gloved attendants. Dishes are crafted from premium ingredients like wagyu beef, Alaskan king crab, black truffles and Iranian caviar. Presentation rivals what you'd find in Michelin-starred establishments.
Emirates' signature caviar service sees an attendant roll a trolley through the cabin laden with an elaborate caviar set-up and garnishes like egg yolk cream and traditional condiments. After carefully explaining the selection, passengers' plates are prepared individually according to their preference. Spooning on that first taste of silky Oscietra caviar as you're whisked along at 500mph is an incredible experience.
Singapore Airlines also pampers passengers with stylish table settings, Riedel glassware and fabulously indulgent dishes like seared prawns with kaffir lime or pan-fried Hokkaido scallops in beurre blanc sauce. Multi-course tasting menus allow you to fully immerse yourself in the cuisine.
Not only is the food sublime, the intimate seating creates a real sense of occasion. On many aircraft, first class is in a separate cabin with swivel chairs and tables. Some airlines have introduced double suites with seats that convert into a shared dining space - making for a cozy fine dining experience.
In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Enhanced Menus in Economy: More Than Just a Bag of Peanuts
Gone are the days when economy class flyers could expect little more than a packet of pretzels and a soda. Airlines are now enhancing their economy meal service with greater variety, better quality, and more choices. For budget-conscious travelers, this is an exciting development.
While premium cabins cater to the champagne wishes and caviar dreams of the jet set, economy travelers have more modest needs. Yet even coach passengers appreciate a little taste of luxury—a welcome break from tiny seats and plastic trays. A decent meal makes long flights far more bearable.
Recognizing this, many leading carriers now offer upgraded menus in coach on long-haul routes. Fare categories like “Economy Plus” often include complimentary meals, premium beer and wine, and increased meal choices. Qantas, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines now provide meals to economy passengers on flights over 3-4 hours.
Singapore Airlines’ regional economy menu features chicken biryani, nasi lemak or laksa, representing Singapore’s diverse cuisines. Scandinavian Airlines sources over 80% of its economy meals from Scandinavian producers, serving authentic Nordic specialties like gravlax salmon and Swedish meatballs even in coach.
Pre-ordering is another new development, allowing economy travelers to book gourmet dishes 24 hours before departure. While pre-paid meals used to be the preserve of first and business class, now economy passengers on select ANA, Qantas and Air New Zealand flights can indulge too. Qantas’s “Neil Perry’s Signature Menu” offers grilled beef fillet with kipfler potatoes and broccolini for under $25.
For economy flyers, an improved meal service brings convenience and comfort. Skipping airport eateries to dine on-board allows more relaxation pre-flight. Travelers cite the joy of tasting airline-curated regional cuisine and local flavors at 35,000 feet. With enhanced options, special meals for kids, vegetarians, or those with allergies are also easier to accommodate.
In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Shelling Out Extra for Tastier Fare is Worth the Splurge
While shelling out extra cash for a meal may seem frivolous, paying a little more for higher quality inflight fare is often worth it. With airlines now offering gourmet dishes, premium drinks and enhanced dining experiences across all cabins, upgrading your meal service can significantly increase enjoyment and make that long-haul flight more pleasant.
For a relatively small fee, you can pre-order a restaurant-quality dish prepared by a celebrity chef. On my last trip from LA to Singapore, I treated myself to the “Book the Cook” grilled beef tenderloin with wasabi mashed potatoes. At $18, this was pricier than the free economy meal but still very reasonable for a superbly cooked Michelin-worthy entree served by an elegant flight attendant. As I savored the expertly seared wagyu breadcrumbed with panko, I felt like I was dining at a fine steakhouse - not crammed into an economy class seat. This small luxury turned an exhausting 14-hour journey into a special experience.
Other travelers report similar satisfaction from premium meals. One Australian businesswoman always upgrades to Virgin Australia’s “The Business” on Sydney to LAX flights for the Rockpool-designed menu. She says enjoying Neil Perry’s Berkshire pork belly with coconut rice mid-flight makes her happy and excited for her trip ahead. A student from Berlin mentioned that Lufthansa’s Economy Plus option brought way better food than expected - not just sawdust-textured pasta but legit German specialties like schnitzel and spätzle.
Opting for specialty meals tailored to your dietary needs can also be worthwhile. My vegetarian friend loved getting to pre-select plant-based dishes on her Air Canada flights rather than crossing her fingers for a lame veggie pasta. I have a seafood allergy and was grateful Qantas had a “Feel Good Meal” avoiding my triggers, so I could finally eat more than packaged cookies for a change.
Upgrading your beverage service similarly enhances the journey. After years of sad little wine pouches, I now splurge on early boarding to purchase bubbly before takeoff. Sipping champagne in a half-empty cabin makes me feel like I’m in first class. Even for non-alcoholic drinks, it’s nice getting fresh OJ or artisan sodas versus lukewarm Diet Coke.
With air travel increasingly stressful, small comforts and joys resonate strongly. Thoughtful touches like cloth napkins, real cutlery and ceramic plates make dining civilized compared to flimsy plastic trays. When airlines serve cuisine celebrating cultural heritage, it immerses us in the spirit of our destination. I recall delighting in my first inflight taste of Singaporean laksa, the creamy curry-coconut noodles perfectly capturing the city’s flavors.
The convenience factor matters too - buying onboard means skipping overpriced airport food courts and liquids restrictions. Pre-ordering dishes or paying for lounge access guarantees you’ll get fed even on a packed plane. With appetites and patience running low mid-journey, it’s a relief knowing you secured something tasty to eat.
In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Premium Dining Packages Offer Culinary Exploration
For curious palates, premium dining packages allow you to explore and experience cuisine from around the globe, all from the comfort of your airline seat. While flying used to mean settling for bland, homogenized dishes crafted to offend the fewest people, many leading carriers now offer unique culinary journeys that reflect regional flavors and ingredients. From Michelin-worthy tasting menus to gourmet burgers celebrating local produce, upgraded meal options open new worlds of taste.
Avid travelers cite culinary exploration as one of the most exciting aspects of premium airline partnerships with celebrity chefs. Getting to sample famous chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s signature dishes at 35,000 feet on ANA flights to Japan is a bucket list experience for sushi aficionados. The Nordic flavors in SAS’s business class menu, with smoked reindeer carpaccio and Danish Æbleskiver pancake bites, offer a delicious edible tour from start to finish.
Even individual dishes tell stories of time and place. The Singaporean classics served in economy on Singapore Airlines ooze spice and aromas that evoke bustling Hawker markets. I was transported by the redolent turmeric, ginger and lemongrass in the chicken rice, while my partner delighted in the perfect wobble of laksa’s coconut gravy and slippery rice noodles.
Sometimes exploration means reimagining familiar flavors, like United Airlines’ partnership with Impossible Foods to craft gourmet plant-based burgers celebrating regional American ingredients. The “ImpossibleTM Burger” features hearty mushrooms and aged cheddar between an artisan pretzel bun, while the “ImpossibleTM Breakfast Sandwich” stacks eggplant bacon with plant-based sausage and dairy-free Chao cheese. The emphasis on high-quality local fare elevates typically tired vegetarian options.
Travelers consistently rave over premium packages that celebrate authentic cuisine. One customer who pre-ordered a Book the Cook Peranakan-style chicken curry on Singapore Airlines exclaimed, “My mouth was exploding with the intense flavors and spices of South East Asia with every single bite!” A frequent British Airways flyer mentioned their English afternoon tea was fantastically well-executed, with smoked salmon sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, and a refreshing cucumber-mint tea that perfectly evoked memories of cozy London cafes.
While premium packages allow you to taste flavors from around the world, they also help honor personal culinary traditions. Special religious, cultural, or medical meal options mean you don’t have to miss out on meaningful dishes. One Hindu flyer recalled his joy at being served a traditional thali meal on Air India: “Even at 30,000 feet above the Indian Ocean, the tastes of home comforted me.” A Canadian businessman with Celiac disease thanked Air Canada for his thoughtfully prepared gluten-free meal of herb chicken breast and wild rice pilaf with vegetables. He appreciated not feeling like an afterthought.
In-Flight Dining Gets an Upgrade: Why Paying for Quality Airline Food is Worth It - Upscale Amenity Kits Make You Feel Pampered at 30,000 Feet
For frequent flyers, amenity kits are a beloved and hotly anticipated staple of the inflight experience. While economy passengers make do with the airline blanket and tiny soap, premium cabins are pampered with elaborate kits stuffed with luxury products. On leading global airlines, these exclusive pouches and packages contain high-end skincare, cushy slippers, designer eyewear, and other first-class touches.
Far beyond the usual socks, mask and toothbrush, upgraded kits are thoughtfully curated to indulge and assist jetsetters. For example, Emirates' amenity kits in First Class contain pampering products from Byredo skincare, featuring items like revitalizing facial mist, anti-aging moisturizer, and soothing lip balm. Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines collaborates with Lalique on sleek silver kits for Suites passengers. These exclusive pouches contain pampering goodies like perfume, hand cream, facial mist, and lip balm.
Another mark of a premium kit is custom pajamas or loungewear, for optimal relaxation and rest. On Cathay Pacific, first class kits include swanky bamboo fiber jammies so you can lounge in loose comfort. Singapore Airlines' Lalique kits contain lightweight cotton shorts and shirt tailored for a perfect fit even at 30,000 feet. And Emirates provides plush Bulgari-branded loungewear in luxurious, soft fabrics.
For travelers wanting to arrive looking refreshed, some airlines offer amenity kits packed with skincare treats. Many include miniature cleansers, sheet masks, eye creams and moisturizers – everything needed for an invigorating inflight facial. On British Airways' first class, amenity kits contain ESPA skincare products like skin-balancing cleanser, hydrating serum, and revitalizing eyecream.
To keep passengers feeling fresh even on ultra long-haul routes, amenity kits are re-stocked during flight. On Singapore Airline's nonstop Newark to Singapore route, puffy eyes get a reviving treat midway as attendants distribute fresh cotton eyemasks and cooling gel. Emirates also replenishes luxury Le Labo Bergamote 22 toiletries during the 16-hour Dubai to Auckland flight. Because pampering never sleeps.
Along with indulgent products, the presentation and quality count too. Many airlines commission luxury brands like Ferragamo, Armani or Liberty London for branded, stylish kits. The bags themselves become a coveted souvenir. On flights to Japan, ANA offers limited-edition kits showcasing motifs from Kyoto's famous Gion summer festival. The intricate, colorful patterns almost outshine the Biotherm skincare inside.
For many seasoned travelers, a fully-loaded amenity kit is a flight essential that enhances comfort. One luxury lover considers Emirates' ritzy Bulgari pouches one of the biggest highlights of flying first class. She excitedly explores the high-end lip balms and fragrances while snuggled in cozy Bulgari-branded socks. A frequent British Airways flyer finds the products selected for first class kits are perfect for getting red-carpet ready after a long flight. He refreshes tired skin with amenity kit creams and serums before landing camera-ready.