Dining Gourmet in Qatar—We’ve all had to make tough choices about where to go because of the outbreak. Airlines are no exception when it comes to making decisions on in-flight meals. Masks can be left off if there is too much food or too little of it. Additionally, the flight attendants who prepare and serve the food must be secure.
Even before COVID-19, everyday catering operations were major endeavors for some of the world’s largest airlines. I visited Qatar Airways Catering Company, the world’s largest airline catering operation under one roof, at Doha’s Hamad International Airport to learn more about how they feed so many passengers every day. Qatar Airways has perfected the art of in-flight catering with 16 hot kitchens, a food safety laboratory, and a warehouse full of everything from sugar packets to toilet paper.
Seeing how one airline prepares 200,000 meals a week, 24 hours a day, and primarily from scratch is an astounding feat for anybody to see, but as someone who is fascinated by aviation, seeing how one airline manages onboard food and drink was extremely intriguing. I spent many hours examining how your flight food travels from the prep kitchen to your tray in less than 24 hours while wearing head-to-toe safety gear (including a hair net and shoe covers).
Dining Gourmet in Qatar: Fresh Produce
The Qatar Airways’ food operation employs as much fresh produce as possible. Whatever is delivered to the kitchen in the morning will be ready for serving by the evening. More than 165,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables are consumed daily at the factory, with potatoes accounting for 22,000 pounds of that total. Butter, eggplants, potatoes, and onions are among the airline’s most popular purchases. Hand washing, sanitizing, peeling, chopping, and slicing each vegetable is required.
You won’t find a single can of anything, even in economy class meals. In fact, only for economy travellers, almost 50,000 salads are prepared everyday. More than 22,000 pounds of chicken breast and 33,000 pounds of rice are purchased each day, and fresh pasta is prepared on site.
To ensure the safety of the food served, the catering facility maintains a spotless environment. Cardboard cartons, for example, are not permitted within the facility due to the risk of bringing in contaminants or pests. A pre-washed bin must be used for all boxed goods, including bottled water, air freshener, and even vegetables like carrots and lettuce.
Each tray or dish is meticulously portioned to ensure that it has the same amount of food. There is nothing worse than seeing your seatmate consume more cake than you do._ The food is poured into the containers on your tray for low-cost meals. For improved presentation, business-class meals are often served in a variety of containers that the crew heats and plates on board. As many as 37 hot meals per minute can be packaged and sealed using machines that keep an eye on the weight of the ingredients.
Daily, the airline’s catering division prepares 66 unique meals, just for passengers traveling in Economy Class. A estimated total of 4,000 special meals are served daily, including low-sodium, diabetic, and children’s selections as well as destination-specific delicacies like Indian curries.
An whole area of the property is dedicated to a bakery that bakes everything from fresh bread to croissants to pastries to cakes and more. Because the yeast in bread, for example, can cause it to collapse before it gets to the plane, the temperature is carefully maintained.
Having a bakery of your own has numerous advantages. It was after noticing that passengers didn’t like the crackers the airline was serving on flights that the airline dropped the supplier and started making its own.
So much so that the airline has its own omelet bar. In instead of buying them frozen, Qatar uses a machine that can generate 18,000 omelets a day for both business and economy class passengers. Several dozen fluffy omelets are produced every few minutes by chefs who drop eggs into each skillet and then sauté and flip them as the belt travels around.
To ensure the safety of the final product, meals are refrigerated to a temperature of approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the flight, these are loaded onto trolleys that have been grouped together. before they are transported to planes in special vehicles.
In order for flight attendants to use the carts, they must be loaded onto the plane in precise locations. Each plane has a lot of cargo to move. Catering equipment on a Boeing 777 can weigh up to 9,000 pounds.
As a result, flight attendants reheat meals in ovens before serving them on board; in business class, they follow special orders to plate the meal’s components on dishware like a restaurant.
The airline relies on historical data to determine how much food to pack for each meal. There may be more vegetarian options on flights to India than on flights to South America. Passengers tend to eat more on some flights than on others, based on past experience.
There are fewer individuals having breakfast before arriving on Qatar’s flights to Australia, for example, because their bodies are not ready to eat at that hour. Using this information, the airline may better arrange its meals in the future.
More than 12 million bottles of water and more than three million bottles of white wine are stocked in the airline’s warehouse each year.
Serving a gourmet lunch at 35,000 feet is no easy chore, and keeping up with the needs of frequent flyers is essential. Every two to three months, the long-haul menu is updated. Menus are rotated weekly on routes with a higher volume of frequent flyers, including as flights connecting cities in the Middle East.
Dining Gourmet in Qatar: More than Food
Towels, pillows, and blankets for first- and business-class passengers are all handled by the catering facilities. They also provide condiments, amenity packs, and even jammies. Packing and sorting by destination is required for all of these. Tea is consumed in greater quantities on flights to China and India than, say, on flights to the United States. North American flights necessitate pajamas that are a size or two larger than those flying to other locations. Laundry is also done in-house by putting together former flights’ blankets and linens and cleaning, folding, and packing them.
Taking washing in-house saves airlines money because they don’t have to acquire as much inventory as they would otherwise. Clean, creased, and sealed blankets are produced by machines (although the thicker business class duvets are folded by hand). Cleans and folds 88 pounds of blankets every two minutes; machines fold 286,000 pounds of blankets a day on average.
Many blankets have suddenly “disappeared” on flights, and other linens have to be destroyed due to makeup stains, even though there is a lot of inventory. To avoid reusing something that appears dirty, the personnel must keep an eye out for such blemishes.
Products such as toilet paper, watermelon and pineapple have recently been delayed on cargo ships for Qatar Airways. Toilet paper, on the other hand, cannot be left behind on a flight.
When a flight is delayed, what happens? There is a lot to consider in terms of how lengthy the delay is. Eventually, the food will become bad and must be replaced. Flights lasting more than 15 hours are simply too lengthy to be made without food or water.
Also keep in mind that customers often change flights or upgrade to business class at the last minute, which can change the quantity of meals the catering facility needs to cook. The management of last-minute changes in passenger loads and delays is handled by a specialist staff.
Hundreds of serving carts stuffed full of trash from incoming flights are being unloaded on a different floor. Recycle what you can, get rid of rubbish, and clean everything before it heads out into the world again, all by hand.
It’s an easy joke to make about airline cuisine, but it may actually deserve a little more credit.