An Airline May Have Broken the Law With Beer (And How Much Inflight Meals Cost)

Brian Sumers of Skift interviewed the Vice President for Innovation at Gate Group, one of the world’s largest airline caterers and the one where listeria was discovered at its LAX facility recently.

  • While it varies by airline, the average economy meal costs $8 — including tray, dishes, utensils, and the cost of getting it onto the plane.

  • Business class meals cost around $25 all-in.

  • It can take 24 hours from the time food is prepared until it’s eaten onboard.

  • Here are the toughest foods to offer on planes:

    Any food which is sensitive to having bacteria. Raw fish is very sensitive. It needs to be extremely fresh to be good. And the supply chain for airline catering is not tailored for very fresh foods.

    Ice cream is also harder because ice cream that is supplied but not consumed is wasted. Everything that is milk-based is difficult, too, [for temperature-related reasons.] We are working at solutions to overcome that problem. One of them is a chilled trolley. It’s a trolley with a fridge inside, to ensure the temperature inside the trolley remains stable and anything that is not consumed during the flight does not necessarily need to be wasted, but can get re-offered or resold.

  • They’re developing “a coffee trolley” to produce better quality coffee inflight.

  • KLM’s beer on tap wasn’t actually approved by regulators, “KLM took the risk and the responsibility of putting it into the air anyway.”

    Credit: KLM

People like the idea of salads, of healthy meals, but they don’t actually order them on a plane. So an airline might offer one for buy onboard and it won’t get sold but customers are happy with the idea it’s there while going straight for comfort food.

Meanwhile the future is in buy onboard where the food is actually good, signaled by chef branding. (I’ve argued that chef branding matters, you should revise your estimate downward of the chef but assume the airline is investing more in the meal and trying to signal that to passengers although it doesn’t always work, the old United Charlie Trotter meals were said to give passengers ‘the trots’).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yes the American public is always complaining they don’t have “healthy” choices, but when they’re offered they go for the comfort food. Taco Bell spent millions in the 90’s developmenting and rolling out the Fresco meals with fresh pico de Gallo and light cheese…and no one ate them. Interesting about the cost of meals. Of course that’s an average and probably US based.

  2. This reminds me of Swissair in 1995 or 1996 when they served draft beer on tap on the Geneva to JFK flights so not really new is it ? 🙂

  3. Heineken yeccchhh corporate beer. Give me a Sam Adams any day — in fact I got one on the flight from Madrid a few days ago 😀

    ps I vaguely remember draft beer on the Swissair flights but wasn’t that from those tiny mini-kegs? And forgot the brand .. it has been nearly 20 years

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