Airlines offer in-flight menu items at food trucks, pop-ups

In a marketing move best described as “ironic,” a handful of airlines are now offering land-bound folk a taste of the finest of what they serve in the air. The New York Times reports that Air France, Austrian Airlines, Southwest, and Delta are trying to lure potential passengers by tempting them with samples of in-flight meals “from” celebrity-chefs.

The modus operandi are primarily roving food trucks and pop-up restaurants in cities from New York to Denver (there are also some permanent vendor spots at various sports stadiums). In Washington, passerby were offered European coffee and guglhupf, a type of cake. In Manhattan, crowds lined up for a taste of buckwheat crepes with ham, mushrooms, and Mornay sauce, or duck confit.

I get it. Airline food sucks. Time for an image makeover. But isn’t the airline industry so financially strapped that we’re lucky to get a bag of stale pretzels during a cross-country flight? And just because reknown chefs like Joël Robuchon, Tom Colicchio and Michelle Bernstein act as consultants for airlines and design their menus, that doesn’t mean it’s their food you’re eating on the JFK-to-Paris red-eye.

Most ludicrous, however, is the notion that there’s any basis for comparison against fresh ingredients and made-to-order food versus even the best institutionally-prepared airline crap. I’ve had a couple of decent meals designed by well-regarded chefs when I’ve been lucky enough to fly business class, but in the grand scheme of things, they were still made from flash-frozen, sub-par ingredients whose origins I’d rather not ponder. And if food truck crews are merely nuking actual airline food, then how are they any different from the corner deli with a microwave?

I’m not trying to be a food snob. I just find it interesting that airlines are hopping on two of the hottest culinary trends of the new century–ones largely based upon local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients. Yet by all accounts (to hear airline reps tell it), the plane campaign has been wildly successful. Of course. Who doesn’t love free food?Raymond Kollau, founder of, cites social media as the gateway to this type of “experiential marketing.” “As people are bombarded with marketing messages,” he explains, “real-life interaction with products and brands has become increasingly valuable for airlines to get their message across.”

Valid point, and there’s no doubt this is a clever scheme. But truth in advertising is what wins consumers. What a catering company can pull off on-site is a hell of a lot different from what you’ll be ingesting in the friendly skies. If airlines want to use food to entice new passengers, they need to start by sourcing ingredients in a more responsible, sustainable manner, rather than supporting ecologically detrimental produce, meat, and poultry (talk about carbon offsets). I realize that’s not financially feasible at this time, but supposedly, neither are in-flight meals. As for making it taste good? You got me.

[Photo credit: Flickr user OpalMirror]

Count Calories While You Fly

Thanks to our healthy friends and sister site, That’s Fit, I just stumbled upon this awesome article out of the Seattle Times focusing on the nutritional value of those in-flight snack packs. You would think with cheese, crackers, peanuts and an occasional cookie one wouldn’t shoot their entire diet to hell, but beware!!! (Cue horror music.) If you thought the danger was in flying you were wrong – it’s in the honey roasted nuts! The story in the Seattle Times notes both Delta and U.S. Airways have the lowest health score, for more reasons than high in calories. The system is based on factors like how helpful the airline was in providing information, the cost of the snack pack (if any) and the exercise equivalent to burning off the calories found in each pack. Let’s take the Delta snack pack for example since it ranks the absolute worst. According to their info you’d have to walk 197 minutes to burn off the 766 calories found in Delta’s bag of treats. That’s a lot of walking for so little food.

On the upside, those flying with United need not worry so much as a frequent Delta or U.S. Airways flyer. United Airlines ranks tops. The snack packs offered on board are vegetarian friendly and trans-fat-free. Although the cost is $5, they have the largest selection of snack choices. Surprisingly, you’ll need to do a good amount of walking to burn off the calories found in an United pack (up to 231 minutes for munching on a Smartpack), but at least you’ll know that your balancing it all out.

I highly recommend reading this one if you’re trying to keep track of your diet every step and flight on the way to your holiday destination and beyond.