When you get on the aeroplane for your well-earned getaway, there’s a few things that are usually a given. First, you’ve almost definitely forgotten to pack something. Whether it be your mobile phone charger, toothbrush, even socks! Secondly, you’re most likely going to be that person who ends up sitting in front of the screaming baby or child that enjoys kicking the backs of seats. Third, that the in-flight grub is going to be, at best, sub-par.
Is it really though?
Travel cuisine and specifically airline food, has for some time held a reputation for being somewhat mediocre and bland. But is this an outdated concept? Is the food on offer getting any better? We’re going to explore the food on offer, by air, sea and rail, to see what changes are happening with our travel food.
By air: aeroplane food
The elephant in the room is being addressed here. Or, indeed, the questionable meat floating in a generic gravy waiting to be poked at with the disposable cutlery provided.
We now find ourselves in a world where we can talk face-to-face with people halfway around the globe on our smartphones, where we can instruct our boilers to power up and heat our houses before we get home from work, then the question is, why can’t we cook a decent meal in the sky? We’ve not only sent men to the moon, we presumably fed them on the way there and back. How hard can it really be?
Defending airline food, the sheer volume of meals required in a confined space must be challenging to say the least. The largest independent airline food provider makes 685,000 meals every day, says The Guardian, giving a whole new meaning to ‘fast food’.
It isn’t the case that airlines are without the capacity to serve pomegranate-glazed lamb or chilled prawns with an aioli tarragon sauce. In fact, back in the 1950s, before the dawn of flight classes, meals were ridiculously flashy, with charcuteries featuring in the aisles of the then-smaller planes.
But then the penny dropped and airlines suddenly had a bit of a lightbulb moment. From a business point of view, they realised that they could split flight classes and offer this ‘better’ food to the first class flyers, and less-expensive food (or maybe none whatsover) to the much cheaper economy class. Even with technology like sous-vide allowing for food to be vacuum-sealed and slow-cooked to keep it tasty even when cooked in the air, technological advancements in airline food don’t often filter down to economy class plates.
At the end of the day, it’s down to selling. The huge variation between economy class food and first class is designed to encourage people to want to pay more and upgrade their seat. For those with frequent flyer points, many choose to spend their points on seat upgrades rather than a free ticket, and as Business Insider notes, a flight costs an airline more than fancy food does.
By sea: ferry food
It’s maybe not surprising to hear that travelling by sea is nowhere near as popular as travelling by air, which is probably why we hear so little in the ways of criticism for sea-based cuisine. Or perhaps it is because space isn’t so much an issue on a ferry as it is on a plane or train — you tend to find a good array of restaurants and food services on a ferry. The quality isn’t so much an issue as the price, with many advocating taking your own food with you in order to avoid the ever-present expense of travel-based food.
By rail: train food
When you think of food on the train, the likelihood is that you’ll picture brings to mind a trolley squeezed down the aisles, serving average teas and coffees and wildly overpriced crisps and snacks. Unless you’re travelling in first class, crisps and biscuits and dry sandwiches are about all you can expect from train travel. And that’s if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your view), as many services have axed their on-board trolley services.
A lack of sustainability is commonly blamed by operators as the reason behind the decision to scale down or, in some cases, end catering service on their trains. There’s simply no reason to pay so much for a sandwich or packet of crisps on-board the train when the same, if not better, food exists a throwing distance from the train at a slightly lower price. Train stations are filled to the brim with all kinds of outlets, and it’s not just Burger King and WHSmith on offer now. For many of us, it’s no trouble to pack our own food and bring that with us or grab something on the way to the platform.
If you’ve made the upgrade to first-class, it’s common that you’ll be treated to a complimentary menu most days and, at the very least, an assortment of snacks to choose from. But as the Telegraph posits, the array of food often doesn’t come to much, and when you consider the price difference between a standard and a first-class ticket, you’re technically paying for the food you’re eating and then some.
In fact, The Tab’s Annie Lord tried to make a profit from her £49.00 first-class ticket via eating and drinking the complementary food. Two hot drinks, six gin and tonics, one apple juice, one Pepsi, one cake, one bag of nuts, a bag of crisps, a piece of fruit, a salad, and a few snacks later, Annie made a profit of £5.65. A victory? You decide.