Stephen Jardine: Good airline food is pie in the sky

It's time for airlines to address the problem of poor quality food, writes Stephen Jardine

Published 10th Mar 2015
Updated 24 th Mar 2015

Chicken or fish? No matter how much of a food lover you are, at 30,000 feet that is a question surely no one looks forward to answering. At a time when most of what we eat is better than ever before, airline meals remain resolutely rubbish.
Last week on a long-distance flight, I was offered five-spiced beef which the menu described as being “cooked to perfection”.

It may have been eight hours before in a food preparation facility in Slough, but by the time it reached seat 21B, it just resembled congealed sludge. Like everything else on offer.
I don’t even know why they bother to waste paper on menus since it all just tastes tepid and too salty.
I learned my lesson a few years ago when the “sautéed chicken breast with julienne of vegetables” I ate on a flight to New York came back to haunt me eight hours later at the top of the Empire State Building.
I complained to the airline, who replied it was “very strange” as no-one else had experienced similar problems. Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?
As a result, I now restrict myself to the vegetarian option, not due to animal welfare concerns but simply because I prefer not to spend valuable time abroad examining foreign plumbing up close.
Sadly, choosing vegetarian does not guarantee quality when the cabin doors are closed.
On my flight last week the vegetarian meal meant congealed pasta that had been cooked for so long it was hard to tell if it was penne, rigatoni or farfalle.
Then there is the iceberg lettuce salad in its sad little box and the dessert that always looks like a mousse cake but never tastes like one.
To top it all, the munchkin meal comes complete with miniature packets of salt and pepper and enough tiny plastic cutlery to feed a small army. The solution to the waste and the miserable meals being served at the moment is to go back to basics.
Airline catering evolved out of the need to feed hungry people in an appropriate way. With few food outlets in airports, meals onboard had to match the feeling that flying was special and a bit of a treat. As a result, airline food is usually an awful version of restaurant food.
Instead, let’s just give people what they actually want. If airlines cannot serve hot food or good quality in flight, why don’t they instead concentrate on quiche, salads and sandwiches that won’t be the worse for waiting hours to be served?
On arrival back at Edinburgh Airport this week I noticed Marks and Spencer has just opened a branch packed with easy and simple things you could eat onboard.
If the airlines won’t change the way they feed passengers, they risk people just choosing what they eat elsewhere.

Stephen Jardine is a journalist and presenter and has previously worked for Scottish Television, GMTV and Radio Tay. He now writes a weekly food column for the Scotsman.
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