Airline food: Cathay Pacific stepping up its culinary game?
Airlines are flying bigger, better and more comfortable aircraft, so we wondered whether more advanced planes and technology mean better airline food across all classes of travel. The Foodie World spoke to Aaron Claxton, Head of Catering at Cathay Pacific, and got him to answer some of our top questions on wining and dining at 35,000 feet.
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes to create inflight meals? Aaron says it’s more complex than you think. The best part is a lot of innovation that allows airlines to step up their culinary game, improving the taste of plane food and the overall inflight dining experience.
How has inflight dining evolved?
There’s been a lot of changes in aviation, in general. Whether it’s the inflight dining experience, innovation behind seats, aircraft noise or inflight entertainment – all these aspects have changed dramatically over the last decade.
At Cathay Pacific, we’ve noticed that the focus is now very much on the inflight dining experience. Our passengers are very informed – they know what they want to eat and what to expect on board. As a global airline, we are focused on exceeding passenger expectations and so there’s been a significant improvement in terms of the foods we offer and the way we serve it on board.
For example, in our front-end cabins (i.e. First Class), a lot of products are cooked fresh on board with the use of our rice cookers, skillets and toasters, and we use restaurant standard plating to ensure all dishes are presented in an impeccable manner. In that aspect, there’s been some major innovation and improvements.
In this era of competition from low-cost carriers, is there a greater expectation for major airlines like CX?
The low-cost carriers are offering a different type of proposition whereby food is often purchased on board and customers select what they prefer. We are very mindful of this too and want to give our passengers more options. It’s all about listening to passengers and getting a better understanding of what they want.
For example, there’s a big coffee culture going on around the world at the moment. People expect that you serve great coffees on board and our passengers are no exception. As a result, we pay a lot of attention to this in our inflight beverages offering.
Similarly, we’ve noticed that people are becoming increasingly health-conscious and are looking to eat meals that are easier to digest on board. For that very reason, we’ve launched a program recently called Clean Cuisine, where we’ve engaged a celebrity chef to develop some healthier options for our menus on our US routes. Ultimately, we are trying to make the inflight dining experience more enjoyable and to continuously delight our passengers.
Has technology inflight improved to allow delivery of more interesting/better quality meals?
Technology has definitely facilitated a lot of innovation in the inflight dining space and this in turn, has affected the way airlines serve meals up in the air and how the meals are enjoyed by passengers accordingly.
For example, the new A350 aircraft we’ve introduced has lower cabin pressure which helps with the situation tremendously. It’s a lot quieter and your ear buds don’t pop, which then goes on to affect passengers’ taste buds.
We are also currently developing a new cooking technique called sous-vide whereby we cook our meats and protein dishes very slowly in sealed pouches and cook in water baths. This method breaks down the fibres and allows passengers to enjoy soft and tender textures up in the air whilst all the natural juices and flavours are maintained.
What kind of research does CX do in terms of trying to improve its culinary offerings?
For established routes that have been going on for a while, we definitely spend a lot of time as a company listening to our passengers (through on board questionnaires and surveys). Based on the feedback, we then design and tweak our menus accordingly.
For new destination routes, there’s a lot of factors that we take into consideration when we start putting menus together. For example, we look into the passenger profile and take into account any religious or cultural requirements for that particular region. We are also aware of what our competitors are doing and are up to date with what’s happening the local marketplace to identify key trends.
Cathay Pacific are currently working on a lot of initiatives that I believe will make a noticeable difference in the industry and further improve our culinary offerings – so watch this space!