The winners, according to our annual reader poll.
Virgin America 82.08
JetBlue Airways 74.18
Hawaiian Airlines 71.59
The demise of free meal service in economy class has meant the rise of better buy-on-board options. To wit: Virgin America earns raves for its on-demand dining via seatback touch screen and snacks from home-grown artisanal brands, such as San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe ice cream. JetBlue is a favorite for its Terra chips and boxed meals (try the roast beef sandwich); starting in June, Mint seat fliers can sample a small-plates menu by New York’s Saxon & Parole. Hawaiian Airlines bucked the cost-cutting trend: it’s the only U.S. airline to still serve complimentary meals on domestic flights in coach. The onboard snack bar keeps it local, selling everything from Spam musubi to macadamia nuts.
Singapore Airlines 93.33
Cathay Pacific 86.83
Many long-haul carriers stake their reputations in part on their dining programs. That explains Singapore Airlines’ investment in a pressurized tasting room to simulate the in-flight experience of eating and drinking. Also noteworthy: the Givenchy china in first and business class. Emirates always offers Middle Eastern–inflected dishes (Arabic meze; lamb stew); at the front of the plane, healthy menus are available without advance notice. Cathay Pacific partners with Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong and uses specially designed onboard equipment (rice cookers; toasters; skillets) to carry out its vision. But the airline’s most popular item? Häagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream.
Many airlines have called in the pros to develop and consult on their menus. Here are a few top toques and a taste of what they’re adding to in-flight dining (pictured from left to right).
Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch
Delta Air Lines: Slow-cooked beef brisket with heirloom grits and kale slaw.
Hector Vergara, Latin America’s only Master Sommelier
LAN: Top wines from Valle del Maipo, Chile, and Mendoza, Argentina.
Seiji Yamamoto of Tokyo’s Michelin three-starred RyuGin
Japan Airlines: Wagyu filet with foie gras, caramelized apples, and Périgueux sauce.
Luke Mangan, Chef, restaurateur, and author
Virgin Australia: Barramundi fillet with bok choy, ginger, soy, and sesame dressing.
Thibaut Ruggeri of Paris’s Lenôtre; 2013 Bocuse d’Or winner
Air France: Sautéed shrimp with mushrooms and potatoes.
By the Numbers
It’s not easy getting all those meals up in the air. A look at what it takes.
23,149 pounds: Reindeer meat served last fall on Finnair.
500+: Dishes sampled to create each new menu on Virgin Atlantic.
2.36 million: Eggs used annually for breakfast omelettes aboard LAN.
1.94 million: Bottles of wine consumed in Swiss’s economy class in 2012.
Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman.