Is airline food improving? Likely yes -- in first and business class

Airline food is rarely yummy -- and I include business and first class food in this evaluation -- but that has not stopped carriers from trumpeting their menus on what seems like a monthly basis.

Virgin America is proud of its new menu, which airline says "are crafted using an assortment of sustainable and fresh ingredients, including local fruits and vegetables, premium meats and artisan breads." (Who writes this stuff?)

Virgin America is proud of its new menu, which airline says "are crafted using an assortment of sustainable and fresh ingredients, including local fruits and vegetables, premium meats and artisan breads." (Who writes this stuff?)

These things tend to go in a boom and bust cycle. When times are not good for airlines, like five or so years ago, they make minor cuts to food service. They might take away an entree choice or stop serving an appetizer on flights. Or they might cut table cloths. They might even cut food altogether, especially on shorter flights.

But when times are better, like now, we tend to see some investment in in-flight menus. To be sure, it's a little hard to tell what's real and what's marketing. Just because an airline sends a press release trumpeting its new in-flight menus does not necessarily mean it's spending more on a per meal cost. And American Airlines has gone the opposite way, cutting meals from some flights. 

Here's one of United's new onboard salads. 

Here's one of United's new onboard salads. 

But I think we're seeing a trend. United Airlines a couple of weeks ago said it would considerably improve the quality of its dining. And this week, Virgin American sent a fancy press release with its new menus.  Also, we should give credit to JetBlue, which created an ambitious menu for its new first-class style Mint service between New York and Los Angeles and New York and San Francisco.

I would still, however, recommend going into any airline experience with low expectations. Making food that holds up at 35,000 feet, especially at the per meal budget that most airlines have, is not easy. The pictures may look a lot better than the food tastes.

There might be one exception, in the unlikely case you can afford it. I recently toured the catering kitchen Singapore Airlines uses in Los Angeles. As you can see from the video below -- that dish is for Suites Class -- Singapore takes its premium class dining very seriously.

As a final note, people periodically ask me about food in economy class. I don't know what to say. As long as fares stay low, I don't see economy class food improving. (And that's on flights where it exists at all.)