AIRLINE MEALS: Catering Process of Airline Meals
A typical airline will serve thousands of meals to passengers every day. These airline meals must be delivered daily to airline customers without fail. The catering of airline meals is a complex, time-sensitive process that requires proper coordination for it to be successful. This article looks at the organisation of the catering process for the production of airline meals.
In the early days of airline catering, meals were cooked on board the plane and served to the passengers as if they were in a restaurant. This was possible because very few people used air travel in those early days. As air travelled increased, it became impossible to cook food in the planes and the airlines turned to pre-made meals in order to serve their growing number of passengers.
The first airline meal was served by the Handey Page Company on a flight from London to Paris in 1919. It consisted of a lunch box of sandwiches which cost three shillings. In 1936 United Airlines became the first airline to install on-board kitchens in its plane. This provided the passengers with hot meals at their convenience.
Catering for Airlines
The food served on airlines today is produced by a vast, complex and well coordinated supply chain. Millions of food trays have to be produced each day, delivered and served in time for the strict schedules of airlines. This is normally delivered by airline catering companies that are either owned by the airlines or are separate catering units established for the sole purpose of delivering food to the airlines.
A typical airline caterer delivers over 45,000 meal trays a day. This includes fruit and vegetable salads, starters, hot meals, snack and beverages. The caterer also delivers cutlery, linen and other amenities on a daily basis. For these items to be supplied to the airlines, the caterer has to organize the operations in such a way that everything is delivered on time given the tight arrivals and departures schedules of the airlines.
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Organisation of Airline Caterers
Over 1 billion passengers are served by airline catering companies every year. An airline operating a Boieng 747 will load over 35,000 items weighing 5 metric tonnes and occupying 50 cubic metres of space. The items loaded into the plane will range from meal trays, duty-free products, toiletries, first-aid boxes, headsets, linen to headsets.
The food served on an airline is prepared in a process similar to a manufacturing process where it is cooked in large ovens and assembled in a manufacturing cell fashion. The logistics of delivering these food to the airlines is well coordinated between the caterer and the airline so as to meet the strict time schedules of passenger flights. Any delay in adhering to flight schedules is costly to the airline as the airport authorities usually slap heavy fines to flights that do not stick to the schedule.
A typical airline catering facility will consist of :
- Hot Kitchen - In this section, the caterer cooks meals that are eaten hot. There are various food types that are prepared here from meat and sauces to vegetables.
- Cold Kitchen- Salads and bakery items are prepared in this section
- Wash-up area - All the airline and kitchen equipment is washed in the wash-up area
- Equipment stores – Most airlines will store some of their equipment within the catering unit so as to make logistics simple. The returning equipment is washed and reused for assembling meals
- Bonded warehouse – Here all the Duty free goods that go into the airline tray are stored in order to comply with laws that do not transit goods to be off-loaded into the local economy.
- Assembly – All the components that go into a meal tray are assembled at one point and loaded into airline trolleys
- Dispatch- Transportation is done using specialised high-loader trucks that allow for trolleys to be loaded and off-loaded from the planes.
Airline Meals Component
Typical airline meals are composed of various elements depending on the airline class of the passengers. Premier and business classes have more components than economy class meals. In some airlines, for example the no-frills airlines, the meal components have been reduced to the bare minimum because these are low cost airlines.
Airline Meals Hygiene requirements
Airline meals have to meet strict hygiene requirements due to the fact that they are been consumed thousands of feet above ground. If a medical emergency were to occur, the patient has very limited medical options.