Skift Take

Some airlines are bringing back hot meals for their premium passengers, but is this all pomp-and-circumstance or will it help rev up sales? People are tired of paying for everything when they fly, airlines need to consider bringing back free food for all if they really want to attract customers.

A year after the novel coronavirus became a pandemic, U.S. carriers are constantly looking for creative ways to entice premium travelers with amenities, bonus miles, and creative culinary offerings.

Let’s face it, the global pandemic has changed the landscape of flying and onboard service experience depending on your destination. Gone are the days of free flowing food and beverages on flights. In fact, most global airlines suspended hot meal service in an effort to protect both customers and crews.

Delta, for instance, no longer offers hot towel service and some airlines have also stopped serving alcohol altogether — a lucrative source of income for airlines — opting instead to serve individual bottled waters. Whether or not these changes are temporary or permanent remains to be seen.

But as the industry continues recovering, some airlines are adapting and looking for ways to reward premium customers with a variety of scintillating hot meals, hip cocktails and sometimes much more.

While that brings a sense of normalcy back to flying, will the promise of high quality meals in the cabin help drive ticket sales or is this just a brilliant marketing plan? Either way, it’s got our attention.

Hawaiian Airlines hired Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka, owners of Honolulu’s MW Restaurant and Artizen, both popular local eateries offering Hawaiian fare, as its first husband-and-wife executive chef team on Monday to oversee the menu of its onboard featured chef series.

“Our Featured Chef Series has developed into a top-rated meal program that celebrates the vibrant culinary scene and outstanding agricultural bounty of our islands,” said Renee Awana, managing director of product development at Hawaiian Airlines.

Additionally Karr-Ueoke, a pastry chef and Ueoke, a twice-featured chef with the airline himself, are curating first class meals for inbound flights from the U.S. mainland and all cabin menus for flights between Hawaii and Japan, Australia and New Zealand and outbound flights to South Korea

Chefs Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka, Hawaiian Airlines’ first husband and wife executive chefs.

“Michelle and I are excited about the opportunity to share our passion for food on a global scale and look forward to welcoming Hawaiian’s guests with new menus that represent our home,” Ueoke said.

With a range of menus customized to its route and all-star chefs you may have seen on television, Hawaiian Airlines has a variety of cuisines for every palette — at a time when many airlines are foregoing full service due to pandemic health safety constraints.

A sample of its menu selections for premier passengers flying from mainland U.S. to Hawaii includes a choice of a kale, truffle cheese omelet with eryngii mushrooms and roasted potatoes for brunch. Whereas lunch offers a choice of entrees including miso-glazed chicken thighs with roasted tomatoes and leeks with fingerling potatoes garnished with baby arugula and basil leaf.

On the mainland, American has partnered with the James Beard Foundation in New York City and its award-winning chef, Sarah Grueneberg, in helping design the carrier’s rotating premium service menus on long-haul and transcontinental flights. American is also partnering with select chefs to offer a special Passover meal in place of the kosher meal it had offered pre-pandemic.

The Dallas-based carrier, which has scaled back its service since last year in an effort to reduce touch points due to Covid-19, is currently only serving full meals on long-haul international flights, a spokesperson said.

On those long flights, one of the JBF menu cycles may include miso saba roasted sea bass, artichoke ravioli, chicken cacciatore, baked spinach, and rotolo pasta

In the Big Apple, JetBlue is offering its premium passengers a taste of NYC chic with a reimagined ideal of what elevated inflight hospitality looks like through its Mint dining experience in premium cabins.

The airline is partnering with SoHo-based Delicious Hospitality Group (DHG) known for its NYC restaurants Charlie Bird, Legacy Records and Pasquale Jones, to bring their inventive culinary style and wine and cocktail programs to the cabin, a JetBlue spokesperson said.

Mint service includes a rotating menu featuring small plates prepared with seasonal ingredients and inspired by each of the three DHG restaurants, alongside a selection of international wines and craft cocktails shaken onboard.

“To complete the experience, DHG redesigned plates to mimic [its] New York City table tops and has shared access to their revered music playlists capturing the ambiance synonymous with dining in one of their restaurants,” a JetBlue spokesperson said.

Atlanta-based Delta, which has also pared down its service due to the pandemic, is offering a holistic approach to food by partnering with the Mayo Clinic to redesign its inflight offerings with a focus on even safer delivery.

“Currently, offerings on board are prepackaged snacks, bottled water and beer/wine

A plate of Delta Biscoff solo | Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines. These images are protected by copyright.

for first class and Comfort Plus on all flights greater than 500 miles. We haven’t announced a date for our full food and beverage service to return yet, but our teams are currently evaluating ways to bring service back onboard safely,” said Delta spokesperson Maria Moraitakis.

After listening to customer feedback, Delta is including passenger favorite snacks, including the classic Delta Biscoff cookies, goldfish, Clif bars and almonds.


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Tags: airline, airline food, business class, coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, first class

Photo credit: One of a variety of JetBlue Mint® meal and beverage offerings, JetBlue has available for its premium passengers with an earthenware mix and match plates resembling what one may have at home. JetBlue / Skift

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