Five Best Airlines For Food

| 08.22.12

Foreign carriers have long bested American airlines for quality cuisine and beverage service.

Singapore Prawn on Singapore Airlines If you could choose between one long-haul carrier offering the usual greasy deflated cheese omelet, and another serving scrambled-to-order free-range eggs and toast with honey harvested with its own bees, which would you pick?

I don't suggest picking an airline for its cuisine, but if there's a choice of carriers serving your cruise departure port at the same price point, why not select one featuring top-flight (pardon the pun) food service? Sad but true, foreign carriers have long bested American airlines for quality cuisine and beverage service. Recently, several such long-haul carries have upped the ante.


Take Etihad Airways. The national airline of the United Arab Emirates is pioneering a new concept; taking farm-to-table (as restaurants do) to the skies with farm-to-flight. The airline has purchased 200 hens, raised free-range at Abu Dhabi Organic Farms. Etihad has also purchased three beehives. The eggs and honey produced from the airline's hens and bees are served exclusively to Etihad passengers and used in an array of dishes, including eggs, any style, as a breakfast option. Etihad is currently developing a line of signature pickles, made from organic ingredients. Who knows what else this innovative carrier will introduce to make culinary news?

Although, like all airlines, most culinary attention on Etihad is lavished on business and first-class travelers, economy flyers make out better than most. Back-of-busers can select from three entrees, and are served warm dessert and wines, spirits and beer. Cappuccino and espresso are also offered - a rarity for coach class. Etihad even provides economy class guests surprise treats mid-route, such as ice cream or popcorn. (

Have you tried the food on foreign airlines? Tell us here: Cruise Cuisine Forum


British Airways - which flies to may corners of the cruise globe - recently unveiled Height Cuisine to its passengers. London-based Heston Blumenthal, one of the world's most acclaimed chefs, worked with BA to revamp its onboard cuisine, taking into account the lost of taste and sensory connections at 35,000 feet. The subsequent new menus introduce many umami-rich foods.

If you're a foodie, you're probably familiar with this now-buzzy term. Umami is considered the "fifth taste" (beyond salty, sweet, sour, bitter) and is found in foods like seaweed, walnuts, parmesan cheese, pickles and dried mushrooms.

Such pronounced flavors better offset that taste loss in the skies. BA also works with a renowned Scottish seafood company for its fresh fish on flights departing the United Kingdom. On one flight, I sampled an excellent Scottish salmon in rich broth. The airline even serves afternoon tea with freshly made flaky scones, clotted cream and English jam in premium classes.

Club World (business class) flyers love raiding the pantry. It's stocked with snacks, from healthy nibbles like whole wheat wraps and fresh fruit, to artisan British treats such as handmade shortbread from Teoni (a bakery in Devon, England) and, naturally, beloved Cadbury chocolate.


Cruisers headed on Asian sails (Hong Kong voyages) should consider Cathay Pacific Airways. The airline scores high marks for its menus, which feature both Asian and Western dishes in all classes. Premium seat flyers are treated to free-range organic scrambled eggs, cooked-to-order in skillets. Yes, this airline stocks fry pans, toasters and even rice cookers. Talk about fluffy rice in the skies.

Full meal on Cathay Pacific Airlines

Premium seat buyers may see a menu of signature dishes from Hong Kong's red-hot restaurants du jour, like superstar chef Gray Kunz's Michelin-starred Café Gray Deluxe. Special meals are no problem; everyone from raw foodists to Hindus have good options. And everyone gets Chinese tea before bedtime. (


Singapore Airlines (perfect for Singapore-based cruises) wins lots of awards, many for its cuisine. This carrier is passionate about food; it even created a test kitchen built specifically to copy the galley conditions in an air-pressurized cabin.

Singapore turns to its International Culinary Panel for imaginative fare, comprised of superstars like Suzanne Goin of Los Angeles' Lucques and Tavern, and George Blanc of his eponymous Michelin three-star restaurant in southeast France. Coach meals may be less lavish than business and first-class and suite repasts (those folk may nibble malossol caviar, choose from nine types of bread and sip Krug champagne), but economy menus include sophisticated appetizers, cheese plate and Asian and Western teas. (


Turkish Airlines actually has a "flying chef" onboard each flight. The chef is dressed in immaculate whites - even a toque - and greets every passenger at the plane door. Turkish Airlines is one of the few carriers that you can sit in any class and inhale delicious aromas. It's a yummy choice for getting to any Eastern Mediterrean cruise.

The flying chef is responsible for all in-flight meals but his focus is on premium classes. Still, no matter your seat the Turkish and western-style cuisine is fresh, plentiful and tasty. The food also looks terrific; fresh herb garnishes - such as fresh-picked rosemary sprigs - are standard. Keep this airline in mind for Eastern Mediterranean cruises. So many depart from istanbul. (


While I lament the cuisine on all America carriers, I do have some good news to report. Delta Airlines is launching a new "Delta Winemaker Series" on every transcontinental flight beginning September 1, 2012. (Delta offers many flights to the East Coast which connect to planes heading to Europe and beyond.)

Passengers flying between New York City and Los Angeles or San Francisco can experience selections from six leading Los Angeles and San Francisco-area winemakers.

The program was curated by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, the airline's exclusive sommelier and one of only 18 women worldwide to earn this credential. Robinson has serious cred; she authored four books and has hosted several television programs.

This famous sommelier has made outstanding new choices for BusinessElite class flights. Two of the Wine Country's leading winemakers, Heidi Peterson-Barrett (La Sirena) and Merry Edwards of her namesake winery are showcasing signature wines. Other wine world stars include Dave Minor, proprietor and vintner of the Minor Family Winery, who is featuring a Viognier (aromatic white wine known for its floral notes).

BTW, the food may be improving, too. Celebrity chef Michael Chiarello (Food Network, Fine Living Network) consults on the menus. The Napa-based chef (Bottega Restaurant, Yountville) is known for his Italian flavors blended with a California twist.

Let's hope other American carriers display some initiative and showcase our best chefs (not just signing them to consultant status, but actually putting them to work in test kitchens) and start highlighting more artisan wines.

Have you tried the food on foreign airlines? Tell us here: Cruise Cuisine Forum

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