Passenger Catering for Extended Business Aviation Flights
This is a post by author Roger Leemann. Roger is the Senior Vice President of Culinary Operations for Air Culinaire Worldwide, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, with kitchens in Aspen, Colorado; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; London, U.K.; Long Beach, California; New York, New York; Paris, France; San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Van Nuys, California; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Washington, D.C. Also, Air Culinaire Worldwide provides in-flight catering services at hundreds of airports around the world via hundreds of catering partners. Roger is an expert on catering menu development and training for business aviation operators and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Passenger catering considerations are often quite different than they are for flight crew. The choices you make will impact passenger well-being, energy levels and the ultimate success of the mission. While you don’t want to do anything to radically change normal eating patterns or passenger-preferred food choices, there are things you can do from a catering perspective to enhance the passenger flight experience.
1. What are general food choice considerations?
When flying extended missions, consider passenger objectives: Do they want to relax or stay alert during flight? If they’re attending a meeting immediately after arrival, mental alertness will be a key consideration, and food choices will impact this. Consider time of departure, arrival and time zones. You may be landing in the afternoon, but it may be breakfast time for the people onboard. It’s usually best practice to confine meal periods to the time zones from which your passengers are departing. It’s also important to plan for both meals and in-between snacks.
2. Do food choices impact alertness?
If it’s an overnight flight, and the passengers would like to sleep, a heavier-carb meal, such as a pasta dinner, will help induce sleep. If you’re close to the destination, and passengers want to maximize alertness, consider higher-protein options – perhaps an omelet or a high-protein cereal – as opposed to high-carb pancakes or muffins, which may cause a decrease in alertness. If passengers plan to work in-flight, consider high-protein snacks. It’s important, however, to provide meal options that passengers normally consume and to be aware of any medical or allergy restrictions, or religious preferences, when selecting catering.
3. Is portion size a consideration?
Organizations such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advise that adults need only 6 ounces of protein per day (even though many people consume this in a single meal). In the in-flight catering world, portion and plate sizes are usually smaller than they are in restaurants. Protein portions tend to be no more than 6 ounces, with vegetable portions about 4 ounces. Serving plates are typically 8 inches in diameter, compared to 12 inches at many restaurants. Sauces should be provided in larger portions – so that there are ample amounts available, if needed. You also want to configure portions on the plate to reduce the risk of things falling or running off. As a general rule, you want to be sure that passengers are satisfied with portions but not so full that the food hinders energy levels.
4. What are packaging considerations?
Packaging can determine what food is purchased. Always consider galley counter space, refrigeration capacity, re-heating equipment and galley storage options. When sourcing catering from hotels or restaurants, packaging is a key consideration. Many operators carry standard-sized containers – suitable for onboard storage and re-heating capabilities – to provide to restaurants when catering orders are prepared.
5. Are there negative reactions to certain types of foods?
If passengers are not accustomed to certain types of food, this may affect them negatively. For example, the catering may be too spicy, or the sauce too rich. Knowing the purpose of the flight – as well as passenger objectives after landing – will also influence food choices. On a long flight, for example, you may provide heavier-starch dishes after departure – to help passengers relax – and even 5-course meals with cocktails, appetizer, salad, intermezzo and main plate. Avoid serving heavy starches right before arrival and avoid the energy roller-coaster effect of too much sugary food.
6. What are impacts of beverage choices?
Serving fruit juices in high doses may affect passengers negatively, as these juices often contain a lot of sugar. Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas and other prepared foods can make you hungry. Alcohol can affect some people differently at altitude and have more of an impact than at sea level. On extended missions, it’s important to remain well-hydrated. Plain water, or teas without a lot of sugar or milk, are good choices in maintaining adequate hydration.
7. What food choices help avoid fatigue?
High-protein foods, without too much sugar, help energize passengers. Snacks of granola, nuts, or beef jerky help maintain energy levels. Avoid sugary and high-fat foods, as well as heavy sauces that can slow down absorption and digestion and make passengers drowsy. For example, high-fat potato chips can be substituted for healthier options made from beets, etc. It’s not a bad idea to focus on simple and traditional choices – water, plain teas, simple fish dishes or crudités – rather than highly processed food options such as cookies, chips and diet sodas.
8. How do cultural considerations impact food choices?
Portion sizes typically vary depending upon where the passenger is from. North Americans, for example, prefer larger portion sizes than many Europeans or Asians. The way food is served and consumed also varies among cultures. Different cultures prefer to eat with forks, spoons, chopsticks or fingers. In some cultures, people like everything to be set out on the table at one time, while others prefer a multi-course dining experience.
9. What are some other tips?
It’s always best to work with an in-flight caterer who understands culinary production and how to effectively combine this with business aviation needs. Catering success is impacted by the experience of the caterer and the crew’s understanding of passenger mission objectives. Flight attendants should ensure they have all necessary supplies and trimmings onboard, such as sufficient lemons and limes to go with a salmon dish or teas that are served. Carry back-up meal options that can be rehydrated and served in the event of a catering malfunction.
Key catering considerations on extended missions include understanding passenger preferences, how they’ll spend their time in-flight (work or sleep), and the nature of the business mission upon arrival. Food choices will have a direct impact on passenger energy levels. Always try to orchestrate catering options to match the type of flight, mission objective and individual passenger preferences.
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