In an attempt to shift stock and recoup a small portion of lost income, a number of airlines are selling in-flight meals to enjoy on the ground. Olivia Palamountain reports

While airline food generally gets a bad rap, few can resist the rumble of an in-flight meal trolley. But with so many grounded flight routes (especially in Asia-Pacific) there’s now little opportunity to sample the meals most people love to hate, coupled with a growing nostalgia for the experience of air travel.

In order to satisfy hungry would-be fliers and recoup lost revenue, some airlines are offering in-flight menus for sale as a standalone product. 

Thai Airways kicked off the trend for flogging in-flight food in April when the pandemic struck. Its meal boxes contain an entree and dessert, with both Thai and international selections available – think stir fried tiger prawns or beef cheek with cumin sauce. These can be pre-ordered for collection from Bangkok airport or delivered.

More recently, it began selling time on its flight simulators for the public, and began offering airline food (First, Business and walk-in, priced accordingly) at its new Royal Orchid Dining Experience restaurant.

According to The Independent, 800 people eat there everyday. It reports: “For those who pine to dine above the clouds, it has it all: cabin crew bringing cold drinks on Thai Airways trays and superior airline food served on Thai Airways tableware to be eaten with Thai Airways cutlery in seating familiar to every aircraft passenger.”

In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific is selling meals to airport staff (stir-fried beef strip and Indian curry fish), while low-cost carrier Santan, owned by AirAsia, sells two Malay staples, nasi lemak and beef rendang at its main hub in Kuala Lumpur.

Indonesia’s national airline Garuda is offering its food as takeaway dinners on a tray.

“It’s served just as if you’re on a flight”, Rubi Haliman, from Tangerang, Indonesia told The Guardian. Having already ordered four meals from Aerofood ACS, the catering company for Garuda he’s clearly a fan of the concept.

“We get the whole set [of potted dishes]. My favourite was nasi daun jeruk: rice with lemon flavour,” he said. On the side, he was served an egg tofu, and for dessert, jongkong, a traditional Indonesian sticky rice pudding.

Australians missing the in-flight meal experience can choose from Gate Gourmet’s meat or veggie bulk packs of microwave-ready frozen meals or select food from rival airline caterer SnapFresh.

When they’re not offering “flights to nowhere“, national carrier Qantas is in on the surplus action too, selling “care packs” of business-class pyjamas, packets of Tim Tams, tea bags and handcream for A$25 (£19).

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines, which experienced a 99.5% drop in passengers during its first quarter, is turning a pair of planes into pop-up restaurants for two weekends in October and November 2020. Tickets sold out in 30 minutes.

Why? Singapore Airlines’ in-flight experience is legendary. Travel + Leisure has voted it the best international airline for 25 years in a row, and meals across all classes are designed by world-class chefs.

Fast Company reported that customers had the option of buying tickets in different classes, with a meal in a first class suite priced at US$474 compared to an US$39 economy class meal. Both meals will take place on planes at Singapore’s Changi Airport, which is the company’s hub. The airline says it will enforce social distancing, using only half of the 471 seats on the plane.

This isn’t the first time Singapore Airlines has experimented with new channels for its catering services. In late September, it launched meal kits that would bring First and Business Class dining into peoples’ homes, priced between S$308 and S$479.

The service came with cooking instructions along with a customized playlist. If you wanted to upgrade the experience, you could pay extra to buy the tableware served on-board (from Wedgwood or Lalique) and even hire a chef who could cook and plate the meal for you at home.

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