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Mile-high feasts

Frequent flier with a Airlines with a food fetish? Airlines have just the thing for you, writes Girija Duggal.
Hindustan Times | By Girija Duggal, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 09, 2008 11:49 AM IST

0n a 14-hour flight from Delhi to New York with an important business meeting awaiting you on the other side? Or generally fatigued by the thought of flying nonstop? To pamper you, many airlines, Indian and foreign, are now offering passengers a virtual smorgasbord of gastronomic options, the better to make the ride more comfortable for you.

From chefs on board who serve you and converse with you, to personalised options that extend to low-calorie, diabetic, low-cholesterol, gluten-free, Jain and even Kosher meals, there is a food fiesta going on 35,000 feet above the ground.

Chef on board
The most innovative of in-flight options is the chef-on-board programme. Business class passengers (yes, they get preferential treatment) can order from an a la carte menu comprising gourmet dishes and select liquors.

They are also personally attended to by a master chef. Air India is among the airlines that introduced this programme in 2006, a relatively new concept for the Indian passenger back then.

"We planned the menu and Satish Arora, corporate chef, Taj, executed them," says Mark Fernandes, catering officer, Air India. The programme ran successfully for three months.

Continental Airlines is another company that runs this programme in Delhi-New York and Mumbai-New York sectors, and the response, according to the airline, has been positive.

"It's a value-added service. We pamper our passengers and get to interact with them," says Chef Shashi Sanamvenkata of Continental Airlines, who has put together its menu. For the airlines, the intangible but valuable returns from the programme override the costs.

"We see it as an investment. It's a wonderful marketing tool and we get important passenger feedback," says Laurent Recoura, Continental's senior director in India.

Luxury on board
If luxury is defined as personal indulgence, airlines are going all-out to indulge. Passengers can choose a meal tailor-made to their specific religious, cultural and dietary requirements.

On Jet Airways and Air India, for example, one can order low-cal, gluten-free, diabetic, Jain and Kosher meals. Jet also has no-salt, no-lactose and low-cholesterol meal options, while AI offers Gujarati thalis and high-fibre meals.

All this is combined with fine liquor Air India is currently promoting Indian wines such as Sula on board its Bombay-New York flights.

Continental Airlines has a selection of champagnes and wines chosen by a panel of sommeliers - hence you may order Sula Brut and Sula White.

Local reflection
'Destination customised' is the keyword here - local dishes specific to the cities the airlines fly in are incorporated into the menu.

On Continental Airlines, for example, one can see everything from dhokla sandwiches and idli-sambar to bacon and sausages. "In the Indian market, we emphasise on the Indian menu, but we balance it with Western dishes to meet the demands of all clients," says Sanam- venkata.

And the most popular dish with both kinds of passengers? "Chicken tikka masala," says the chef with a smile. Some things never change.

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