6 Considerations for Planning In-Flight Catering Orders Pre-Trip

PT 4 M minute read

This aviation blog post is part of a series on in-flight catering for business aviation and continues from our last post: 4 Common In-Flight Catering Errors and Misconceptions.

Sourcing catering internationally involves more considerations and flexibility than local catering. You may be securing catering from non-traditional sources, available packaging may not be appropriate for your galley, and certain brands and specific cuisines may not be available. Ordering catering worldwide can be a successful and rewarding experience, as long as you plan adequately for each location and work within the limitations of what may or may not be available – particularly at smaller and more remote locations.

1. How in-flight catering should be requested when traveling internationally

The main things to keep in mind when ordering are portion size and measurement, packaging style and availability, and cultural food terminology. When placing the order, it is best to be specific with portion sizes and have an understanding of metric and imperial equivalences. For example, in most of the world, a typical protein portion is 4-6 ounces, while a U.S.-sized portion is 8 ounces. You should be prepared to translate your specific requests into the local units of measurement, such as grams or liters. Also, food presentation in other countries may vary from what you’re accustomed to. You will be most successful if you are very specific in your catering requests, while being flexible about any substitutions that might need to be made.

2. What to consider when obtaining catering from a local hotel or restaurant

Even though a restaurant can make great food, that does not mean the food will be packaged or presented well to meet specific aviation requirements. Packaging is one of the most important considerations in aviation catering. Will the containers fit into your onboard re-heating equipment and be able to be stowed properly? It is always best to request sauces and dressings to be packaged separately. Hot food orders should ALWAYS be chilled and refrigerated by the restaurant or hotel prior to delivery for re-heating later. Also, you may need to consider airport restrictions on bringing outside catering onto the airfield. For example, in Milan, Italy (LIML), restaurant catering arranged through an aviation caterer will be accepted, but it’s not permitted for the crew to bring restaurant catering onto the airfield. Your ground handler can help you in understanding the regulations for the particular locale. He or she can also usually make arrangements for outside catering deliveries, when airport regulations permit them.

3. What you can do in advance to help the process

Looking at online menus pre-trip for all the international locations you’ll be visiting is an important step, but keep in mind that only about 25% of international in-flight catering orders are directly from menus. Use in-flight catering menus as guidelines for determining the best options for that location. Talk with your caterers and take into consideration what’s available and in season and what local chefs prepare particularly well. Knowing individual passenger preferences is critical to giving them a memorable onboard experience. Also, you should consider the purpose of the catering. Is it a full meal or just a snack? It is generally accepted standard practice to give crewmembers different meals from the passengers, and that should be followed. In ordering, be specific and detailed but also somewhat flexible so you can respond quickly to caterer substitution recommendations. You should ask questions not just related to the catering itself, but also to the caterer’s service policies. Examples include the notice required to change orders, cancellation policies and payment terms. You should clarify that for safety reasons, if catering is cooked, it should be cooled down, kept refrigerated and chilled until ready to be re-heated or consumed.

4. What to consider in terms of quality differences and ingredient availability overseas

The size of the market you’re flying to will have the most impact in terms of catering quality and availability. Larger markets will typically have more catering options compared to smaller, more remote destinations. Many countries won’t carry produce year-round if it’s not in season. That’s why it’s best to talk to your caterer, as he or she will understand local availabilities and seasonality.

5. What to know about in-flight catering for remote locations

Use local knowledge and ground handler expertise in sourcing catering at more remote locations. At some locations, there may not be any aviation caterers. You’ll be dealing with hotels and local chefs, instead of dedicated in-flight kitchens. In such cases, we suggest providing a minimum of 48 hours’ notice for your local handler to coordinate catering. Also, it’s a good idea to carry extra packaging onboard to provide to local restaurants. This helps ensure your order will be packaged and delivered appropriately for re-heating at altitude.

6. What to keep in mind regarding last-minute catering changes

Being flexible and aware of local limitations is important when revising catering orders. Calling in changes at midnight before a 6 a.m. departure may have little success – particularly at smaller locations (but even larger ones, too). Most catering prep work and shopping are done the day before the order is delivered. You should take into consideration local limitations. Some places may be unable to meet last-minute change requests. Also, be aware of local time zones when calling the location. Even caterers that advertise 24/7 coverage may not have kitchen staff round-the-clock. Also, remember: It’s usually easier to make quantity changes than to change items altogether.


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

Tomorrow we will cover questions operators commonly ask about ordering in-flight catering.

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