4 Common In-Flight Catering Errors and Misconceptions

PT 3 M minute read
In-flight catering errors and misconceptions

This aviation blog post is part of a series on in-flight catering for business aviation.

Trying to obtain high-quality in-flight catering worldwide can present unique challenges. First, some markets have limitations on catering options. Also, local packaging may not be appropriate for your galley equipment or style of service. What’s more, presentation and product availability may be different from what you’re accustomed to. Finally, advance notice may be required for both orders and revisions.

For the best catering results, we recommend you work with an experienced 3rd-party provider or directly with a caterer, understand local limitations and plan catering appropriately. With sufficient advance research and planning, quality catering is obtainable – even in the smallest and most remote markets. In larger markets, great catering options are possible for the well-prepared international crew.

1. In-flight catering isn’t available at all international destinations

Contrary to what some people might believe, gourmet catering is not readily available at every international destination. The size of the local market will often determine the range of catering options at a location. Typically, the smaller the market, the fewer the catering options. For remote locations, it’s best to talk with your ground handler and take advantage of his or her local expertise. He or she will know the best options in town. Sometimes, local hotels and restaurants – instead of aviation caterers – may be your only option.

2. Common misconceptions about in-flight catering orders

One major misconception about in-flight catering is that caterers are the same at every location. In-flight catering does not operate like a fast food chain: It’s not the same everywhere. Portion sizes, presentation, ingredients and even preparation techniques vary from location to location.

For example, something as simple as a fruit tray can be different on every leg of your trip. This doesn’t mean there is anything “wrong” with the fruit tray. Just be prepared for variation depending on the region.

Some people think that good catering can be obtained from good hotels and restaurants everywhere in the world. Although this can be true, it is not always the case. In-flight catering has unique portioning, presentation and packaging methods. Local restaurants may be willing to accommodate specific requests, shop for items and prepare meals not listed on their menus. Otherwise, any requests will have to be from the items available on their menus.

3. Options and timing need to be considered for in-flight catering requests

While your passengers may have specific requirements, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is being too rigid in catering requests for the markets you’re visiting. For instance, we recently had a client who only wanted a specific brand of chocolate syrup to complement his ice cream, but it was not available at his departure point. However, we were able to find a substitute for him. Certain types of food – such as kosher, halal or specific brands – may not be available in every market. You will typically receive higher-quality catering if you and your passengers are open to local cuisine. For example, if you’re flying in Europe, expect European food. In India, avoid ordering hamburgers or other beef dishes, which can’t be easily obtained. Understanding that certain products and brands are not available in every country – and knowing what substitutions your passengers will accept – will ease your ordering experience.

Also, giving enough time for placing or revising orders is another way to ensure catering goes well. In many places around the world, don’t expect last-minute catering changes to be accommodated on short notice. Ideally, catering orders should be placed a minimum of 48 hours in advance, and 24 hours should be allowed for revisions. If you cannot offer that much advance notice, be prepared to work with your caterer, as certain substitutions may need to be discussed. Also, keep in mind that changing quantities is easier than changing menus. However, it is still best to inform the caterer of any changes as soon as possible.

In addition, it is always critical to communicate any passenger food allergies to the caterer and to indicate them clearly on all catering orders.

4. Words that might not be understood internationally

When you travel outside of your home region, you may discover that even the simplest order can be misconstrued. For example, a hamburger can vary from one location to another: In China, for instance, you may get a sweet bun with some sort of meat inside, but the meat will most likely not be ground beef.

Another example of an often misunderstood food is one commonly requested for children: a “hot dog.” The ingredients in that “hot dog,” however, can vary widely from region to region. Even if the caterer states that he or she can provide a hot dog, it is best to find out exactly what is in it. For the most rewarding catering results, it’s best to take into account the local chef’s recommendations for regional specialties and signature items.


If you have any questions about this article, contact me at jenniferwalton@airculinaire.com.

Later we will discuss considerations for planning in-flight catering orders, pre-trip.

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