Innovations in the travel food industry

mother and child on plane eating food
mother and child on plane eating food

There are a few things that go through parent’s minds when boarding a flight. Have I forgotten anything? Do I have my phone charger and snacks? Is my child going to sit still for the duration of the flight? (probably not) And, what is the plane food going to be like?

Travel cuisine, and specifically airline food, has long held a reputation for being sub-par at best. But, this may be becoming an outdated concept. So, we’re going to explore the food on offer, by land, sea, and sky, to see what changes are happening with our travel food.

By land: railway food

When you think of railway food, you can imagine trolleys bustling down the aisles, serving average teas, coffees and wildly overpriced crisps and snacks. If you’re travelling in first class, then crisps, biscuits and dry sandwiches are about all you can expect from train travel. That’s only if you’re lucky, of course, as many services have now axed their onboard trolley services.


Many are sourcing a lack of sustainability (read: a lack of business) as the reason behind the decision to scale down or remove the catering service on their trains. There’s just no reason to pay so much for a sandwich or packet of crisps on-board the train when the same, if not better exists at the station’s platforms or local shops 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 upgraded to first-class, you’ll be treated to a complimentary menu most days, and at the very least some selection of snacks. 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?

By sea: ferry food

Travel by sea is nowhere near as popular as travelling via air, so that might be 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 to avoid the ever-present expense of travel-based food.

By sky: airline food

We’re finally addressing the elephant in the room. Or, indeed, the questionable meat floating in a generic gravy waiting to be poked at with the disposable cutlery provided.

In a world where we can talk face-to-face with people halfway across the planet with our iPhones, where we can tell our boilers to spark up and heat our homes before we get home from work, 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?

In defence of airline food, the number of meals required in a tiny space must be a challenge. The largest independent airline food provider makes 685,000 meals every day, says The Guardian, giving a whole new meaning to ‘fast food’.

It’s not that airlines can’t 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 it occurred to airline businesses that they could split flight classes and offer this lovely grub to the first class flyers, and less-expensive food (or none at all) to economy class. Even with technology like sous-vide allowing for food to be vacuum-sealed and slow-cooked to keep it tasty also when cooked in the air, technological advancements in airline food don’t often filter down to economy class plates.

It boils down to selling. The vast 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.

The truth has been revealed…airline food isn’t awful. You just need to pay a lot more to get a ticket for a spacious seat and a larger drink than those tiny cans of single-mouthful Colas.

Sources:

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/best-airline-food-airplane-gate-gourmet
https://www.cuisinesolutions.com/about-sous-vide/
http://uk.businessinsider.com/why-airplane-food-is-getting-better-2016-1?r=US&IR=T/#for-the-rest-of-us-sitting-in-the-economy-cabin-our-trays-still-look-like-a-middle-school-lunch–if-were-even-offered-a-lunch-at-all-16
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/jul/04/airline-food-flights-of-fancy
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/comment/first-class-train-carriages-in-the-uk/
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/jul/11/food-to-rail-against
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/20/derided-british-rail-sandwich-privatisation-catering-public-ownership-chiltern-railways
https://thetab.com/uk/2017/11/23/i-tried-to-eat-and-drink-my-way-into-making-a-profit-from-a-first-class-train-ticket-53876
https://totstotravel.co.uk/blog/the-complete-guide-of-essential-tips-for-travelling-on-ferries-with-kids/
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661355/final-sea-passenger-statistics-2016.pdf

*Collaborative feature post*

Leyla Preston (564 Posts)

Leyla Preston is the owner and Editor of Motherhood Diaries global magazine for parents. Leyla is a busy mother of two even busier boys; Aron, 8, and Aidan, 6. When Leyla isn’t feeding, managing a gazillion tasks or cleaning the infinite mess at home, she is busy working on this magazine and a new cooking channel coming very soon – no rest for the wicked! You can follow Leyla on Twitter (@M_Diaries) or join the busy Motherhood Diaries Facebook group where all mums get together and share stories and solutions with one another: https://www.facebook.com//groups/motherhooddiaries/