Delta's plan to make its food better

Starting next month, Delta is revamping its dishes on transoceanic flights to shift to seasonally rotating, regionally-influenced menus, the company announced Wednesday.

The move, which affects its Delta One cabin, comes as restaurants and packaged food companies aggressively tweak products to cater to evolving consumer tastes and an increasing focus on ingredients.

But overhauling dishes served thousands of feet above ground presents an added layer of complexity for Delta.

Nick's Classic Chicken Meatballs, olives, spinach, olive oil whipped potatoes from Marta
Source: Marta

"I think airline food for years has had a stigma associated with it because the truth is you don't have a full working kitchen," said Beatriz Sims, who oversees Delta's international menu and product development

"The taste buds do dull a little bit so we try to strike a right balance so the flavors aren't overpowering but withstand the conditions," said Sims in a phone interview.

She said it's a misconnection that the only thing that goes into making food airplane-ready is merely adding salt. Instead, Delta dishes incorporate ingredients like sriracha, black olives and herbs to add flavor with staying power at 35,000 feet.

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Earlier this month, competitor United also changed its lunch and dinner options for United First and business customers on flights throughout the U.S. and Canada, and to Mexico, Caribbean and Latin America leisure markets.

To compensate for diminished flavor at higher altitudes, United Executive Chef Gerry McLoughlin uses added spices and aromatic herbs. The airline also roasts vegetables to release natural sugars, prepares meats and fish to retain moisture via a sous-vide method and avoids butter-based sauces, such as hollandaise, which tend to break when reheated.

Meanwhile, Delta's meals for its Comfort+ and Main Cabin on transoceanic flights will also feature regionally-inspired fare that will change seasonally.

The moves are the latest in a series aimed at making its food better. Last week, the airline overhauled first-class lunch and dinner offerings for domestic flights between 900 and 1,499 miles.

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For select flights from New York's JFK airport, Delta also announced it is extending its partnership with Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group. These flights will feature menus for Delta One passengers developed by the executive chef of New York City's Marta and Maialino, with dishes such as braised lamb shoulder and a white bean and sage soup.

In the coming year, Delta also plans to debut menus inspired by the group's other restaurants on a rotating basis, to offer more variety to customers on some trans-Atlantic flights out of New York.

"It's not your typical standard airline fare," Sims said. "It feels more like a restaurant and less like an airplane."