Does Airline Food Always Have to Suck?

Singapore airlines food

Airline food has never had a good reputation. It's often dry, salty and looks like something more fit for a dog than a human.

But for those lucky enough to sit in the front of the plane, meals are served on fine china and come in multiple courses. They not only excite the taste buds but bring back a sense of service and class to flying.

Preparing such a feast is not an easy production.

Every few months, Singapore Airlines reviews, tastes and tweaks its dishes for the coming season. It's a complicated process that not only has to factor in taste but cost and airplane galley space constraints.

 Video: Singapore airlines shows off its gourmet meals.
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Hermann Freidanck oversees all food and beverage service for the airline and personally tastes -- along with a team of other chefs -- each dish.

Throughout the event, Freidanck would take a bite, puck his lips and then give blunt critiques to the chefs and caterers surrounding him.

"You put too much in," he told one chef after sipping a soup. "It tastes too fishy. For a wonton soup, it tastes too fishy."

Singapore Airlines flies two of the longest commercial airline routes in the world. Its Singapore to Newark, N.J. flight is 10,317 miles and takes about 18 hours. The flight from Los Angeles to Singapore takes even longer -- at 18 and a half hours. The L.A. route is longer due to headwinds; the Newark flight goes over the North Pole and is faster despite the extra 1,200 miles flown.

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Food for its passengers isn't just about eating.

"Because our flights are so long, our food has to do more than feed you. It has to entertain you," said airline spokesman James Boyd. "It's about a lot more than just getting you fed."

Striving for the Best Airline Food

Preparing dishes for an airline is not an easy task. Food is prepared at various airports and then reheated on the plane.

At New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, dishes are prepared by the Flying Food Group, an airline caterer that also makes dishes there for more than a dozen airlines including KLM, Alitalia, Air France, British Airways and Icelandair.

Singapore Airlines prepares 55,000 meals each day in its Singapore kitchen alone.

It also serves thousands of additional meals from 45 other kitchens around the world, including Flying Food Group's sprawling facility near JFK's cargo terminals.

Every decision made about a dish has thousands of repercussions worldwide. For instance, if an extra wonton is added to a soup, 55,500 extra wontons need to be made in the Singapore kitchen alone.

That not only adds to the cost, but takes up more space and more weight. For roughly every three pounds of weight on a plane, the airline needs another pound of fuel. (And for every three pounds of extra fuel, the airline needs another pound of fuel to account for that weight.)

American Airlines famously saved $40,000 in 1987 by eliminating one olive from each salad in first class.

Singapore Airlines spends $500 million a year on food and another $16 million a year on wine.

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