Airline caterers work directly for an airline or for a catering company contracted to prepare and deliver to the planes prior to take-off. The staff of an airline-catering department typically includes a chef, sous chef, prep cooks and line cooks. Kitchen helpers and dishwashers round out the staff.
The airline caterer works with the airline operations representative to plan the menus for each flight. Various meals are required to serve first class, business and coach travelers. Specific dietary requests are reviewed and placed in the order. Menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are required for flights 24 hours a day. Overseas flights that last longer then eight hours require that two meals be served on a single flight.
Chefs and managers of airline catering companies must ensure that all Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) are followed. The HACCP are guidelines and procedures of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that must be closely followed for food preparation and delivery on all flights. The HACCP procedures for food safety are followed by all retail food service organizations and are watched closely in the airline food service industry.
Airline catering companies such as LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet offer airlines a number of options in how the meals are delivered. A caterer often delivers meals that are frozen and can be heated in the planes warming ovens. Short flights may require cold meals that are placed in coolers. The meals are delivered to the plane on a schedule determined to provide the airline with time to store the food and serve it to the passengers. Airline caterers must be flexible to adapt to changing airline schedules, weather events and other timing obstacles.
According to Aviation Magazine, airline carriers often turn to the caterer to trim overall flight costs. U.S. carriers sometimes provide caterers with budgets as low as $3.40 per passenger for food. An airline caterer must maintain a network of food suppliers to meet the cost-cutting demands of their clients. At the same time, the caterer is judged by the quality of the food served. To check the quality of their meals, many caterers try out their meals first-hand during flights to experience how the altitude and warming techniques affect their work.
An airline catering staff includes a manager who supervises the kitchen and directs the cooks. An airline-catering kitchen often follows many of the protocols used in other commercial kitchens, with a chef acting as manager. Airline catering kitchens work on a 24-hour schedule, with three shifts. Line cooks may earn hourly wages in the $8 to $10 an hour range, while airline chefs earn close to $40,000 per year.
Maps of World
Food & Drug Administration
LSG Sky Chefs