Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

How airlines are getting creative with plane food: From selling business class dishes in supermarkets to flight-themed cafes

Airlines have started catering to grounded customers who miss flying

Thai Airways has launched a flight-themed restaurant in Bangkok. AP Photo 
Thai Airways has launched a flight-themed restaurant in Bangkok. AP Photo 

Finnish airline Finnair has joined Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways in a select group of airlines to bring its plane food to customers on the ground.

The Northern European country's national carrier is to start selling business class airplane food in supermarkets in a move to keep its catering staff employed and to offer a taste of the airline experience to those missing flying in the Covid-19 times.

The state-controlled airline said that in a pilot scheme the handmade meals, called Taste of Finnair, would initially be offered at one store as of Thursday, October 15.

The ready-made dishes include options like reindeer meatballs, Arctic char and Japanese-style teriyaki beef and are suited for Nordic and Asian palates and would cost about 10 euros ($12) to 13 euros, Finnair Kitchen said. Finnair is one of the main airlines flying between Europe and Asia, and several Asian chefs and cooks work at its catering unit.

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 16, 2009 file photo, passenger planes of the Finnish national airline company Finnair stand on the tarmac at Helsinki international airport, Helsinki. Finnish carrier Finnair will start selling business class airplane food in supermarkets in a move to keep its catering staff employed and to offer a taste of the airline experience to those missing flying in the COVID-19 times. The state-controlled airline said that in a pilot scheme the handmade meals, called “Taste of Finnair", would initially be offered at one store as of Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva via AP, file)
Finnish carrier Finnair has started selling business class airplane food in supermarkets. AP Photo

The move comes as airlines around the world try to employ their idled resources during the pandemic and tap into people’s desire to fly when most planes are grounded. Some are offering simulated flights, fake trips where the aircraft takes off and lands in the same location, or even just time to sit in the plane.

I think everyone has a bit of wanderlust these days and we can now satisfy that need a bit

Kimmo Sivonen, K-Citymarket Tammisto supermarket manager

Kimmo Sivonen, store manager at the K-Citymarket Tammisto which will sell the Finnair meals, told the newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that the dishes have been modified to have less salt and spices than those offered in the air.

“I think everyone has a bit of wanderlust these days and we can now satisfy that need a bit,” K-Citymarket’s Sivonen said.

Finnair Kitchen Vice President Marika Nieminen said that the airline’s catering unit has been looking to expand outside traditional flight meal services since the spring, when the pandemic forced almost all global airlines to halt most of their flights. Finnair temporarily laid off a large part of its nearly 7,000 workforce and its flight traffic was down 91% in September from the previous year.

“So many of Kitchen’s employees are temporarily laid off and we can now create new work and employment for our people,” Nieminen said.

Singapore Airlines to open superjumbo for diners

Finnair is not the only airline to get creative with its culinary offerings, while much of its fleet is grounded. Last month, Singapore Airlines announced plans to temporarily turn one of its superjumbos into a restaurant for two days. On October 24 and 25, an Airbus A380 at Changi Airport will become a "memorable dining experience" for customers.

It said diners will be able to choose their cabin class before savouring "signature international dishes" or the "best dishes from our Peranakan menu, designed by acclaimed Singaporean chef Shermay Lee".

All seats that were initially made available on board Singapore Airlines' Airbus A380 double-decker superjumbo pop-up restaurants were reserved within 30 minutes of bookings opening on Monday, October 12, the carrier said in a statement.

Thai Airways's flight-themed restaurant

Earlier this month, Thai Airways announced plans to sell time on its flight simulators to wannabe pilots while its catering division is serving meals in a flight-themed restaurant complete with airline seats and attentive cabin crew.

A flight attendant serves meals in a flight-themed restaurant at the Thai Airways head office in Bangkok, Thailand on Oct. 3, 2020. The airline is selling time on its flight simulators to wannabe pilots while its catering division is serving meals in a flight-themed restaurant complete with airline seats and attentive cabin crew. The airline is trying to boost staff morale, polish its image and bring in a few pennies, even as it juggles preparing to resume international flights while devising a business reorganization plan. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
A flight attendant serves meals in a flight-themed restaurant at the Thai Airways head office in Bangkok, Thailand on October 3, 2020. AP Photo

The airline is trying to boost staff morale, polish its image and bring in a few coins, even as it juggles preparing to resume international flights while devising a business reorganisation plan.

If you’re nuts about aeronautics, it doesn’t get much better than this: a hands-on half-hour at the controls of an Airbus A380 simulator, yours for 20,000 baht ($640).

Since the pandemic has clipped airlines’ wings, Thai Airways devised the packages to keep its air crew motivated. It offers a four-day “pilot experience” package, of which the simulator is a part, or access can also be bought to the simulator alone.

The Royal Orchid Dining Experience opened in September, transforming what was the old staff canteen. Managers say 800 people dine there a day.

For those who pine to dine above the clouds, it has it all: cabin crew bringing cold drinks on Thai Airways trays and superior airline food served on Thai Airways tableware to be eaten with Thai Airways cutlery in seating familiar to every aircraft passenger.

There are three classes of food and service: First, Business and walk-in, priced accordingly.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

Updated: October 17, 2020 03:33 PM

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