I’ll be perfectly honest. We’ve never been big fans of airline food. I usually take a backpack full of snacks to make up for what we don’t/won’t eat on the plane. Just the smell of the food, and something about the coffee, often makes me nauseous. My husband has refused meals as he can’t stand the smell either (which always confuses the flight attendants).
But this past summer, we flew Lufthansa business class and something miraculous happened. We both ate our meals - my husband even finished what I had left on my plate. I was flabbergasted. I was totally prepared to eat snacks from the backpack but ended up barely touching them!
So, when I was invited to do a “behind the scenes” tour at LSG Sky Chefs facility at the Orlando International Airport a few weeks later to learn more about where airline food comes from, I immediately said “yes”. Only a handful of agents were invited for this “exclusive” access. I’ve always been curious to the inner-workings of the airport so this was a great opportunity to learn firsthand how things operate on the food handling side.
LSG Sky Chefs is the brand name of the world’s largest provider of airline catering and in-flight services. In Orlando, they work with airlines such as Lufthansa, Edelweiss, Delta and Virgin amongst others.
Before we headed out on our tour, we had to put on jackets (think lab coats) and hairnets. We also had to remove all jewelry. Bearded guys had to cover up their facial hair. We were all giggling about our new attire but were thankful they were so strict for hygienic and safety reasons.
First stop on our tour was a warehouse where they stored all of the dry goods for the different airlines. Each airline had their own “cage” (or multiple cages) where these items were stored - all specific to each airline (Lufthansa serves bottled water from Germany, for instance). There were boxes and boxes of sodas, water, beer, food trays and other airline branded items stacked high to the ceiling. It was overwhelming - but very well organized.
We then were taken to the area where they make up the food trays. This was the coldest part of our tour - it is a constant cold temperature (can’t remember what they said but they joked it was the coldest room in Orlando - and I believe them!) There were tables in the middle of the large room where they assemble the food trays. Shelves are on wheels so they can move whatever they need within easy reach. We were there in the late afternoon and so the actual packing was already completed for the day but I can imagine it is a bustling area in the morning. It works almost like an assembly line with each table doing a different part of the tray. Believe they said they do about 40,000 meals a day! That’s just in Orlando!
After the food trays are made, they are delivered to the next room (which felt even colder) where they are put into the carts that you’ll see on the plane - the metal carts that have looked the same ever since I can remember. Each is carefully tagged and sealed before they are sent to the aircraft. They are kept at a constant cold temperature this whole time to ensure food safety. Side note - they even have a resident USDA inspector in the building!
When it is time to take it to the planes, they load the carts up to the waiting trucks. The drive to the plane takes about 20-30 minutes. Each truck has to be inspected by security and each driver has to go through the metal detector and be wanded just like they were boarding the plane. Orlando has a very secure airport, apparently.
They will then load the carts into the planes (into a climate controlled area) where they wait patiently until it is meal time. Then - voila! - your meal is ready for you - just like magic!
After our tour, we had a tasting of the current menus for business class for Lufthansa and Edelweiss. In case you didn’t know, Lufthansa is a large German airline and they fly non-stop daily between Orlando and Frankfurt (with connections to all over Europe and beyond). Edelweiss is a Swiss airline and they fly several times a week between Orlando and Zurich. Both airlines fly to other airports in the U.S. as well but the menus may be different than what they serve to/from Orlando.
It had only been a month or so since I flew Lufthansa, but the business class menu was already different - apparently it changes every 2 months. The quality and presentation is that of a higher end restaurant - there is definitely attention to detail on each plate. Both airlines have a menu where you can choose your meal (at least in business class) - there’s always a vegetarian option as well. Oh and there’s wine too. Can’t forget to mention that! They had a couple of their chefs speak to us about the ingredients and how they decide what to serve, and it was really interesting. There’s so much thought and care to what you end up with on the little tray.
It was a really interesting afternoon seeing where and how the meals make it to the flights. I’ve definitely gotten a better perspective on airline food and will give it another chance next time I fly. Big thanks to Lufthansa and Edelweiss for hosting this fun event which was also very informative!
Fun fact: The Sky Chefs facility in Orlando also does all of the sandwiches for 7-11 and RaceTrak in the state of Florida! Who knew you might be eating “airline food” while on the ground!