Good Food in Economy? Six Airlines Are Making It Happen


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An à la carte meal designed by the chef Jean Imbert for Air France.

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Is it really possible for economy passengers on long-haul flights to look forward to the in-flight food? Now, on some airlines, that answer may be a “yes.” While back-of-the-plane cuisine doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being appetizing, and amenities for economy fliers are increasingly few and far between, several carriers are taking the opposite approach by elevating their main cabin food on long-haul flights and, in some instances, the alcohol, too. Much of this push is coming from international carriers, but Delta is a United States airline that is part of the trend.

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Turkish Airlines economy-class meals include authentic Turkish cuisine: bread with olive oil and spices, a main course, dessert and brewed tea.

Many airlines promote their lavish meals and premium wines and liquors for first and business class passengers, said Paul Tumpowsky, co-founder and chief executive of the New York travel agency Skylark, but until recently, economy passengers have been largely neglected. Now, he said, tasty economy-class food is no longer an oxymoron. “Competition among airlines is growing by the day, and having good food is a memorable gesture that goes a long way in building a repeat customer base,” he said.

Here, six airlines aiming to make eating in economy a not-so-average experience.

SINGAPORE AIRLINES Serving generous portions of sumptuous, flavorful food in economy is a priority for this Asian carrier. Besides the two entree choices, there’s an additional “Deliciously Wholesome” menu of healthful dishes such as quinoa with ratatouille and chickpeas and Oriental-style steamed fish. Those who want to imbibe have their pick of top-shelf spirits; also, the legendary Singapore Sling cocktail, made with gin and pineapple juice, is always available.

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A sandwich with cold cuts, chips and a brownie from Delta Air Lines, which offers three options for breakfast or lunch.

EVA AIR Will it be wok-fried pork along with Smirnoff vodka on the rocks for dinner? Or is cuttlefish in a five-spice sauce and a Bombay Sapphire gin more your fancy? For economy passengers on this Taiwanese airline, these are just two of many food and beverage options. The selections always include one Western entree and emphasize seasonal ingredients. On significant Taiwanese holidays, fliers can try traditional dishes like stir-fried chicken and vegetables with egg-fried rice around Chinese New Year.

AIR FRANCE The French take great pleasure in good food and wine, and according to Ghislaine Van Branteghem, Air France’s catering product manager for long-haul flights, the airline wants to extend that philosophy to the skies, including to its economy passengers. All meals begin with an aperitif of a glass of champagne along with salted biscuits, and the entrees, such as chicken in a spicy sauce with baby vegetables, are usually accompanied by a wedge of Camembert cheese. Between meals, snack carts full of pastries and French chocolates are set up in the galleys, and on some routes, ice cream is served.

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Shrimp with rice and vegetables is a main dish for economy passengers on Singapore Airlines.

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Singapore Airlines

SWISS As a Switzerland-based airline, this carrier prides itself on serving economy passengers Swiss food and beverage items including chocolate bars, beers and wines. On flights originating in Switzerland, the carrier collaborates with Hiltl, the renowned Zurich vegetarian restaurant, to offer meatless meals like Thai massaman vegetable curry. And fliers with gluten and dairy allergies will appreciate the lactose-free chocolate bars, coffee creamer and yogurt and gluten-free candy bars and cakes.

TURKISH AIRLINES Authentic Turkish cuisine prepared daily from scratch is offered to economy fliers of this Istanbul-based airline. Turkish olive oil and butter, along with a different Turkish spice each month, accompany all breads, and main course selections might be shish kebabs or eggplant stuffed with ground meat. Sweets such as sultac (Turkish rice pudding) as well as freshly brewed Turkish tea cap off all meals, and alcohol options include liquors from premium international brands as well as a range of Turkish wines and liquors.

DELTA AIR LINES Economy passengers don’t have to fly internationally to get a taste of Delta’s improved in-flight food: The carrier now offers free meals on a dozen of its longest domestic flights, including service between Kennedy International Airport in New York and Los Angeles International Airport. Fliers receive menus with three choices each for breakfast and lunch, such as a fruit and cheese plate with cheese from the popular Murray’s Cheese store in New York and a whole grain veggie wrap. Snacks have also been upgraded with choices from familiar brands such as Kind bars and Squirrel Brand almonds. Next up for the airline: a more attractive culinary program on international routes including possible partnerships with well-known chefs.

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