Much of the discussion about airline meals – at least by the airlines themselves – focuses on how fabulous the food and drink offer can be for the passengers who turn left on boarding a plane. Michelin-starred consultant chefs, multiple choice menus and wine lists specially selected for high altitude are all options for the customer who is prepared to pay for them.
For customers travelling in economy class, the options are more limited; yet most airlines still do an impressive job of providing decent complimentary meals in-flight. Far less scrutiny is given to the buy-on-board meals of low-cost airlines – for many an inescapable reality of travel.
Budget airline easyJet is the largest carrier in the UK, and the second-largest low-cost airline in Europe. The carrier offers no complimentary snacks or meals; its food and drink is all buy-on-board, and these sales form a significant part of the airline’s ancillary revenue.
I recently flew from London to Marrakech and back with easyJet, which gave me the chance to explore their buy-on-board offer. And I found the gap between the sales pitch and the reality disappointing.
EasyJet’s menu comes at the end of a glossy in-flight catalogue called ‘Boutique and Bistro’. Past the gadgets, cosmetics and off-licence sections are pages advertising low-cost soft drinks (Pepsi, Red Bull), confectioneries (Maltesers, Snickers, Mars bars), and then a more appetising section called ‘Our menu’. Luscious-looking filled rolls, baguettes and toasted sandwiches are pictured on a picnic table, alongside tempting-looking glasses of wine.
‘Ask your Cabin Crew for today’s onboard selection’, suggests the menu. So I did. One of very few choices left was a cheese and chutney sandwich (costing a mere £4), which looked nothing like any of the pictured victuals. It was presented in a hygienic sealed plastic pack and had the culinary qualities I associate with food designed for long shelf life: dry granary bread and filling, the chutney soaked into the bread – but good Davidstow cheddar saved the day. The ingredients list on the back label detailed more than 30 ingredients, many of them e-numbers.
The paid-for wine service could have done with more finesse. Both the house red and house white were served at identical, ambient cabin temperature. To cool the white wine down, I accepted the offer of ice cubes to put into my plastic tumbler, but this both cooled and diluted the wine as they melted.
EasyJet is a no-frills airline, and this is no-frills food and drink, albeit affordable. The airline provides emergency rations for the many passengers who didn’t have the time to eat before the flight. Next time I’ll arrive a bit early at the airport, and eat just before boarding the flight – a much better idea than fumbling with a pre-packed sandwich or ice-filled tumbler of wine at 30,000 feet.