Airline Food Reaches New Heights

airline food

In an era in which airline customer service scores are spotty, many airlines hope to appease passengers by upgrading their food and beverage offerings.

As business travel returns post-pandemic and increasingly blurs with leisure travel – in a trend some analysts have dubbed “Lisness” – many airlines are revamping their menus, hoping to offer premium experiences with better cocktails, refreshing bubble tea, and cold ice cream, according to new research by Trendincite.

“The combination of the pandemic and the poor economy has lowered consumers’ expectations of service on flights including meals,” Trendincite’s Amy Marks-McGee told The Food Institute. “For airlines that do serve food, the latest consumer-driven demand is vegan and plant-based meals. Airlines such as Japan Airlines, Korean Air, and TAP Air Portugal have been upping their vegan and plant-based offerings.”

Air travel appears to be bouncing back as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes. Consider:

  • The number of total passenger trips in January 2023 increased nearly 46% year over year, according to Airlines Reporting Corp.
  • January ARC-accredited agency air tickets totaled $8.36 billion, a 128% increase from a year prior, according to Business Travel News.

Airlines like Delta hope to win over customers by upgrading their menus. Delta has forged partnerships with three James Beard Award-winning chefs to offer a more expansive selection of vegetarian meals through Impossible Foods, Trendincite noted.

“Delta is innovative with their food offerings through collaborations and partnerships,” Marks-McGee said. For example, “Delta partners with local brands such as Thrive Farmers for an afternoon tea offering for customers flying out of London, Edinburgh, and Dublin.”

Emirates has especially stepped up its food offerings. Last year, it invested $2 billion to upgrade its in-flight customer experience.

“Part of Emirates’ first-class experience included Persian caviar with a pairing of the world-renowned Dom Perignon vintage champagne,” Marks-McGee said. “They also launched a new, gourmet vegan menu.”

Meanwhile, as some airlines – like Spirit, American, and Sun Country – have endured a wave of negative feedback via social media lately, others hope to appease passengers with items like canned cocktails. For example, Delta has teamed with Tip Top Proper Cocktails to serve its RTD Counter Culture Coffee Espresso Martini. The beverage features an espresso coffee blend, vanilla, and vodka.

Southwest Airlines has expanded its coffee offerings, adding Community Coffee’s Espresso + Cream iced beverage to its in-flight menu.

Airlines are also seizing upon the increasing popularity of bubble tea. China Airlines, for example, is rolling out the world’s first bubble tea service on commercial flights.

United Airlines is attempting to lift passengers’ spirits with sweet treats, highlighted by an ice cream sundae cart for all long-haul international flights for the business-class cabin. United is also offering three new snacks this spring: Undercover Snacks’ chocolate Crisps; That’s It fruit bars; and Summer Harvest’s Savory Snack Mix.

Trendincite’s Marks-McGee said consumers can expect to see more food and beverage partnerships in the months ahead as airlines look to seize upon an uptick in travel for both business and leisure.