How Meals Are Cooked In Flight Kitchen In USA


USA airlines carried 674 million passengers in 2021,82.5% more than in 2020(after the pandemic) but remained 27.3% fewer passengers compared to 2019(927 million). Extra passengers forced airlines to rethink their airline meals and how to deliver them. Day by day more passengers are traveling by air, let’s find out How meals are cooked in flight kitchen In USA.

History Of Airlines Food In the USA

Airlines in the USA started flying in 1920. Then planes were noisy and tend to fly at low altitudes due to heavy winds. To feel comfortable during the airplane journey plane authorities started providing food to passengers. In those days airlines started to provide food in two ways. Some airlines signed regular contracts with restaurants to provide food inside planes, others stop during the middle of the journey in a restaurant near the airport.

But the scenario started to change in 1930. In 1930 United Airlines became the first airline to enlist nurses to deliver food. Besides providing meals the nurses also started to help those passengers who felt air sick. United Airlines opened its first flight kitchen in Oakland, California in 1936. Because all of them are nurses and they are more capable of helping the sick rather than delivering food to every passenger, the service was slow.      

Revolution In Aircraft Food Catering

From world war two technological improvements in airlines allowed us to fly long distances with more passengers. From the beginning, only rich people can afford air journeys, and most of them were male.

From 1950 Jet engines were introduced in planes which also divided the facility of air journey, and launched the era of Economy Class. Till 1960 airline catering was part of the airline operation. Airlines still relied on local airport hotels and restaurants. But the increase in passengers airlines companies faces difficulties to fulfill the demand for food. In the late 1960s and 1970s, airline companies started their in-house air catering business or outsourced the work from third parties catering companies. Many passengers told that the food was good but dry. Food was cooked near the airport to provide fresh and avoid contamination.        

In 1970 with the launch of the Boeing 747 in 1970 planes now carry up to 500 passengers and can travel more distances forcing flying attendants to feed more passengers. The oil crisis in 1970 forced airline companies to fit food budgets.     In 1978 Airlines Deregulation Act introduced low-cost airlines.

In the early 2000s airline industry in the USA saw a fall in revenue due to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the world trade center. From 2001 to 2005 USA airline industry lost approx 60 billion dollars. Many airlines stopped serving meals to passengers to cut costs.

But in 2019 in a report, USA airlines revealed that they are profitable for the last ten years. Many airlines bought the free meal back.   

How Airlines Companies Prepare Meal

To provide meals to passengers’ daily needs a catering army. Big airline companies like Emirates established their own airline catering service to stay more profitable. Emirates catering service founded in 2003 is situated in Dubai. Emirates catering service currently has 11000 employees including 1800 chefs who are responsible for serving 225000 meals daily on over 500 flights.

Emirates spends more than 1 billion dollars every year on its catering service. Because Dubai is situated in the desert almost all the ingredients for preparing meals are imported from various countries around the world which is a complicated supply chain and logistic challenge.

In 2018 emirates passengers consumed 110 million meals. Cooked meals are plated and placed in a cart and put into refrigerated vehicles and then loaded in planes.  

Billion Dollar Food Catering Industry

Even today some airlines use third-party catering services to provide meals to their customers. Airlines like United Airlines use third-party catering services. In the USA Airline catering is a more than 6 billion dollar business. Flying Food Group, LSG Sky chefs, and Gate Gourmet are among the most renowned airline catering services in the USA and together they captured around 50% of the USA airline catering market.

Problems In Airline Catering Business

Low Wage

In 2019, Unite, the union for more than 20000 airline caterers protested against the low wage rate and unaffordable health care. More than 50% of airline workers are paid by two of the biggest airline catering companies less than $15 an hour.      

Cabin Waste

More people are flying, and more food is required, more wastage of food. A surely conducted by IATA shows that 2017 produced 6 million tons of cabin waste, 20% of which are untouched food and drinks.        

Despite all of the issues airline catering businesses are growing rapidly. In 2026 Global flight catering business could create an opportunity for $9.5 by the end of 2026. A report suggested that in 2037 more than 8.2 billion people will be expected to travel via airline. In near future, we expect to see even more food options.

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