Necessary Wastefulness

The multi-step airplane food transport process is complicated enough even if everything goes to plan. But, as anyone who’s been stuck inside a terminal during a snowstorm can tell you, unexpected delays are an unfortunate reality of air travel.

A change in flight schedule can make all the hours of food preparation and production go to waste. Since most airlines don’t allow their meals to sit for more than ten hours, the food must be thrown out and prepared again if a flight is delayed for more than two hours. In these instances, warehouse workers will stay overtime to prepare a new batch of meals. Though this practice is certainly wasteful (and costly), it’s a necessary measure to eliminate any chance of food poisoning for passengers. After several notable disasters straight out of the movie Airplane, airlines have learned it’s better to be meticulous than conservative in preventing food waste.

Culinarily Challenges

Airlines plan their menus up to a year in advance, but there’s only so much they can do to actually make the food taste good. Interestingly, United Airlines may not be to blame for their bland chicken -- food simply tastes different at high altitudes.

With the drastic change in air pressure, a third of the mouth’s taste buds are more or less shut off. On top of that, the lack of humidity on-board stuffs up the nose and inhibits taste. In this atmosphere, your senses of smell and taste are reduced by 20-50% -- the equivalent of having a bad cold. Airlines are always striving for satisfaction, so they grapple with this sensory deprivation by taste-testing their food in-flight to make sure their menus retain a semblance of flavor to skybound passengers.

It’s safe to say that airplane food comes “under pressure,” both physically and metaphorically, during its journey from warehouse to tray table. So, go easy on your next in-flight meal -- the airline has pulled off a complex supply chain journey to deliver it to your seat.

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