All airline food is bad, right? Not really, says a new survey by skyscanner.net, a flight comparison site that included 19 international airlines from all corners of the world in the study and ranked them according to the scores they received from passengers.
The study reveals that despite the stereotype of ‘all’ airline food being unpalatable, it is indeed possible to find a good meal set on the tray in front of you.
Interestingly, both Etihad and Emirates – leading UAE airlines – feature among the Top 5, with the top honours going to Turkish Airlines with a score of 86 per cent for its menu which includes such dishes as stuffed eggplant and walnut pear tart.
As well as standard meals, Turkish Airlines also offers a range of special meals including children’s, Kosher, vegetarian and seafood options.
In second place is Singapore Airlines, on which Gordon Ramsay has previously offered his expertise as part of their culinary panel, while Etihad took third place ahead of UAE rival Emirates which came in 5th behind Aer Lingus (in which Etihad recently bought a stake).
In 2010, Germany’s Lufthansa Airlines, which has the ignominy of being ranked second last among 19 airlines, conducted research inside a stationary Airbus A310 designed to replicate flying conditions.
Deutche Welle reported that flyers said their taste buds felt dulled, requiring 20 per cent more sugar and salt. In another study published in that year, British and Dutch researchers outfitted volunteers with headphones playing loud background noises and found that the noise made foods appear less salty and sweet. Loud noise did make crunchy foods appear crunchier, though.
According to the study from the University of Manchester and Unilever, poor catering wasn’t the only reason tray-table meals tend to taste bad.
“I’m sure airlines do their best,” said researcher Andy Woods, but another factor plays a part in how we perceive taste and texture in the air: namely, background noise.
The studies suggest that, when subjected to noise, participants found both salty and sweet foods relatively bland. “Loud background noise dampens food tastes,” Woods concluded. “The ability to detect saltiness or sweetness is reduced.”
Of course there are other reasons why airline food tastes bad. The dehydration and air-conditioning inside planes also suck out flavor, says Guillaume de Syon, an Albright College history professor who has researched airline food.
The investigation paralleled a major aircraft disaster in the number of national and international agencies involved and in the variety of disciplines engaged. Although the causative organism was rapidly identified (salmonella), and its introduction into the food chain proved to be a key factor, the scale of the outbreak was the result of an interaction of other factors. As with a major aircraft accident, none of the factors alone would have caused the near disaster that occurred.
But that was long ago.
More recently, in December 2011, the family of a deceased passenger sued an airline in the United States, claiming that the man died from food poisoning he got from his in-flight meal.
The wife and daughter of the late Othon Cortes of Miami have sued the airline and its catering company for more than $1 million, alleging he ate food contaminated with bacteria during a May 2011 flight from Barcelona, Spain, to New York, USA.
In the lawsuit, the Cortes family has accused the airline and its catering company of “failing to properly maintain or prepare the food.”
While this perhaps was an extreme case, and the litigation is still on, most of us have been on the receiving end of a bad palate in the sky. How important is in-flight meal to you?