Oct 14, 2016

Posted in History | 1 Comment

The Beginning of Airline Food

The Beginning of Airline Food

When the Wright Brothers made their maiden voyage in 1903, one wonders if anyone thought of making sure they had a bag of peanuts on board. The history of airline food has had many ups and downs over the years; most would say there have been more downs than ups.

Shortly after World War I, the only way to catch a flight between cities was to find an enterprising former military pilot who would let you, for a fee, sit in the cargo area of the planes which flew airmail routes. If you were lucky, the pilot might’ve offered you a few sips of lukewarm water or stale coffee from his canteen, or perhaps a couple of salt crackers.

Even Charles Lindbergh, during his historic 1927 33-hour solo flight over the Atlantic, had only a thermos of coffee and two sandwiches to sustain him. Then again, flying a mere 10 feet above the waves for many of those hours would certainly ruin an appetite.

When the demand for air travel increased in the mid-30s, especially among the wealthy, executives of new airline companies had their aircraft feature lavish food service — at no extra cost. Flight attendants dressed like restaurant maitre d’ or cocktail waitresses, and food was served on fine china and linen napery, and wine in crystal goblets.

However, unpressurized cabins and no access to electricity made it nearly impossible to keep foods and drinks at their right temperatures (and fresh). Frequent turbulence often sent plates flying. It wasn’t long before those executives ordered their engineers to pressurize the cabins and install generators which allowed food to be heated and drinks chilled (and planes could now fly at higher altitudes to reduce turbulence). Assorted hors d’oeuvres, fresh lobster salad, expensive cheeses and champagne were often standard fare once galleys were properly equipped.

A typical 1940s airline meal — at no cost to the customer. The cost of such meals was included in the price of a ticket which wouldn't be inflated to cover the cost of the food! Notice the amount of food as well!

A typical 1940s airline meal — at no cost to the customer. The cost of such meals was included in the price of a ticket which wouldn’t be inflated to cover the cost of the food! Notice the amount of food as well!

During the 40s and 50s, as more and more people took to the skies, the treat of free, elegant meals was gradually eliminated to the standard in-flight food service similar to that which we know today — the bottom line became more important than the food line.

Back then, there was no such thing as flying “first class”, but when this mode of travel began to be offered in the 60s, the tradition of higher class meals resumed for those who could afford it. Pan American Airlines, during flights from New York City to Paris, even provided gourmet food from the famous Maxims restaurant for those in the expensive front section of the airplane.

Throughout these decades, European airlines deservedly had the reputation of serving higher quality meals (many feel they still do today).

Some glimmer of hope flickered when, in the early 70s, the public could fly in a two-deck behemoth called the 747. First class passengers on the top deck had the option of buffet-style dining, and could choose to have cocktails in the swank lounge bar, complete with a piano. However, after the oil embargo of 1973, and the subsequent rise in the cost of fuel, such luxuries slowly vanished for most people flying commercial.

Since the mid-70s, most airline companies have owned or leased mass catering facilities. Nearly all airline meals are now-prepared in “food factories” located at or near airports. Pre-packaged food is loaded onto airplanes, then reheated and rolled down the aisles.

Chicken is almost always on the menu; it holds up better than red meat, which tends to dry out when reheated. Savvy passengers know that pre-ordering one of the “special” meals (vegetarian, salt-free, low-fat, kosher, etc.) can mean the difference between a good or a mediocre meal.

And if you think the first class passengers in front of that curtain are having gourmet meals served on fine china, you can rest assured that their meals, on average, are only marginally better. But they do get more than just small bags of peanuts.

  1. Perdona que me vaya del tema, pero al leer tus preguntas no he tenido más remedio que acordarme del 239#11-81:&2-91;Por qué se dio el golpe? ¿Por qué tardaron en intervenir el ejército y su capitán general? ¿Había detrás de los golpistas algún grupo político o alguna potencia extranjera? ¿De qué forma influyó este golpe en actividad política del jefe del estado Borbón? ¿A quién benefició lo que pasó?30 años después estas preguntas siguen sin tener respuesta. Espero que Ecuador tenga más suerte.

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