Last week, Delta announced some interesting upgrades to its in-flight meals, both international and domestic, beginning June 1. The airline plans to partner with celebrity chefs to design new menus, on flights from Los Angeles and Seoul. Delta also announced plans to update its domestic buy-on-board “Flight Fuel” menu. Let’s take a look at these enhancements one by one.
Upgrades on International Flights From Los Angeles
This is actually an expansion to an existing partnership. Delta already partners with LA-based celebrity chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo to cater Delta One meals to New York and Washington. Now, though, that partnership expands to Delta One service to Amsterdam, Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo Haneda. The chefs plan to source meals directly from their catering company, Caramelized Productions. Planed offerings include dishes such as marinara braised meatballs, BBQ chicken with mac and cheese, and fontina, parmesan and raschera lasagna with pomodoro sauce.
Note that these upgrades apply only to flights departing Los Angeles. Meal service remains the same on routes headed to LA.
Meal Improvements to Select Flights from Seoul
Also on June 1, Delta begins a partnership with Korean celebrity chef Woo-Joong Kwon. These upgrades apply on flights from Seoul to Atlanta, Detroit, and Seattle. Meals include regional Korean specialties, such as Sanchae Bibimbap served with mountain vegetables, beef, rice and egg. Interestingly, Delta plans to offer upgraded meals to customers in all classes of travel. So, even those flying in the cheap seats should eat better on the way home.
In addition, unlike the Los Angeles routes, Delta also plans improvements to Seoul-bound flights from the US. Delta intends to partner with local Korean restaurants, such as Atlanta’s Stone Bowl House and Detroit’s Bibimbab Restaurant, to cater these flights.
Buy-on-Board Menu Enhancements
Delta also rolled out minor enhancements to its buy-on-board “Flight Fuel” menu in the domestic coach cabin. Offered on flights 900 miles or longer, the menu now includes two new Luvo wraps, a mesquite-smoked turkey breakfast sandwich, and a mesquite-smoked turkey combo.
My Thoughts On These Changes
I’m always a little torn on these attempts at making “gourmet” airline meals. On the one hand, I applaud it. Partnerships with local restaurants are an easy way for an airline to provide something unique for passengers. Hey, I love trying new local specialties when I travel. So if the airline gives me a little preview, it gives me something to look forward to on my next trip. And the local chef or restaurant gets free advertising. Sounds great, right?
On the other hand – let’s face it, there’s only so much you can do with food on an airplane. Altitude, dry air, and the freezing/reheating process all conspire to dull flavors and textures. I had a chance to try Delta’s “Union Square Hospitality Group”-inspired menu on a New York – LA flight. The dish I had, a baked cavatelli, was just fine.
In fact, I thought it was pretty tasty for a domestic airline meal. But still, it was still clearly airplane food. If the slightly mushy pasta didn’t give that away, the separating oil certainly did. Heck, even Air France’s vaunted La Première faces the same challenges. If you follow my Twitter and Instagram accounts, you know that my much anticipated trip happened this weekend. I promise, I’ll have an “initial impressions” post up in the next day or two. But I’ll preview it by saying the menu is certainly impressive looking. A menu designed by French celebrity chef Anne-Sophie Pic includes regional French specialties, like this Landes corn-fed chicken.
And it was a good dish. But again, it wasn’t even close to what you’d get in a top restaurant in Paris. That, in a nutshell, is the rub with these partnerships. It’s impossible to match the experience on the ground. Undoubtedly, at least a handful of passengers will feel disappointed, and think badly of the chef or restaurant in the process. Probably not the free advertising they had in mind.
Nevertheless, I give Delta full credit for trying. Like I said, these local culinary partnerships are inexpensive ways to make the passenger experience just a little better, and support the local economies in which Delta operates. Just don’t hold it against Chef Kwon when the beef in your bibimbap comes out of the galley hammered…