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14 Aug, 2007 03:54

Flight chefs face tough times

The transfer of Lufthansa Airlines from Moscow's Sheremetjevo airport to Domodedovo is mixed news for catering company Domodedovo Air Service. Lufthansa may bring its own catering company, providing competition to Russia's biggest airline caterer. But ana

The first regular airline passenger service between England and France in 1919 included a light snack – sandwiches, tea and coffee. Much has changed in airline catering since then. The huge increase in air traffic and growing interest in healthy eating have created a need for a certain type of meals produced with the help of modern facilities.

The Russian market of airline catering is dominated by Domodedovo Air Service, which in peak season produces up to 65,000 meals a day, supplying 65 airlines. It is followed by Sheremetjevo's Aeromar, producing up to 45,000 meals daily.

Currently we're working with such international and Russian airlines as Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, China Eastern, Transaero, S7 Airlines. And we have to observe all national and religious peculiarities of our passengers.

Aleksandr Kazantsev
Chef, Domodedovo Air Service

The way food is prepared at Domodedovo Air Service resembles processing in a food manufacturing plant more than a kitchen. The long food production chain starts in the meat workshop where meat, fish and poultry are cut into small portions. They later go into the hot workshop to be prepared in steam machines – chicken stuffed with tomatoes and cheese for business class, mushrooms for Thai Airways, omelette for breakfast at China Eastern.

Hot meals are frozen to be re-heated on board the plane and are put into small boxes or chinaware – depending on the class. The variety of cold meals is even more impressive. And the plant has got its own pastry-cook able to cater for any special event from a birthday to a wedding. Finally the food is packed and put into large boxes, ready for loading. And on board the plane the final product made by a whole team of people is served – many consider this a key part of the journey.

The average cost of the meal served by Russian airlines is about $US 5 for economy class passengers and about $US 20 for business class – usually no more than 3% of the ticket price.

Those involved in the industry say the outlook for food quality is not good – especially for economy class passengers.

“Today Russian airlines follow the foreign model of development. European and American companies do not offer food to economy class passengers – except on long flights. So this service, which is now free, is going to become chargeable,” believes Aleksandr Avdeev from Passenger Service Association.

Aeroflot was the first to follow the trend and, as a result, orders to its catering supplier Aeromar have stagnated. Analysts say other airline meals producers face the same destiny. It seems that Russian air carriers have joined the international market, with traditional standards of service – just as the rest of the industry abandons them.