Celebrating the 100th anniversary of in-flight food

The first airline meal was served on October 11, 1919 on a flight from London to Paris in the form of prepacked lunch boxes containing a sandwich, chocolate and fruit that cost 3 shillings, or roughly €7 today. This event marked the beginning of in-flight retail and even though the meals served on board have changed throughout the years, there is one thing that still holds true today, and that’s the dedication to high-quality, made-from-scratch food. This is where Retail inMotion comes into play.

Retail inMotion has been developing a wide range of goods for the growing buy-on-board food and drinks market since 2004; it has a proven track record managing onboard retail programs for the world’s largest airlines.

Today, we’re celebrating 100 years of food on board of airplanes by taking a look at what in-flight meals looked like decades ago and comparing them with today’s options offered by Retail inMotion.

A look back

In the 1920s and 1930s, aircraft had small tanks, which meant that they had to make several refueling stops. A flight from New York to San Francisco took over 30 hours and involved more than 10 refueling stops. The passengers were served meals at picnic tables made by local restaurants. Food was only offered optionally on board and was served cold.

Things started to change in the 1940s, when, according to French magazine Bon Appétit, in-flight food consisted of Caesar salad, filet mignon, mushrooms and sparkling grape juice, plus a decadent chocolate cake. As good as that may sound, the 1950s represented the golden age of air travel; passengers aboard planes received prosciutto crostini with fennel, mozzarella-stuffed tomatoes with basil, Siberian sturgeon caviar and assorted pastries, according to Bon Appétit’s research.

In the 1960s, aircraft had their own kitchens so the taste of in-flight food was better than ever. For example, some menus included iceberg salad with blue cheese, baked salmon with white sauce with a side of brown rice and vegetable medley, as well as a Bloody Mary mix and the still popular chocolate cake.

In the 1970s, more and more airlines had to cut cost because of the great competition. In order to stay competitive, a lot of on-board food and beverage offers were cut and the quality started to deteriorate. As a result, passengers only received small snacks like salted peanuts. In the next decades, more and more airlines decided to offer food to passengers via a buy-on-board program.

In-flight retail: A blossoming industry

Nowadays, airlines are looking more and more to specialists in the ever-growing onboard retail business, such as Retail inMotion, with its strong portfolio of solutions for the world’s largest airlines.

“In times of individualization, our aim is to continue to give the passenger more choices than the classical complimentary ‘Chicken or Pasta’,” said José Lirio Silva, Head of Onboard Retail Europe & Managing Director of Retail in Motion GmbH. “Digitalization also plays a significant role in enhancing customer and crew experience, which is why we are further expanding our IT solutions such as Pre-order and Delivery-to-Seat.”

Retail inMotion provides market-leading products for travel operators in the global marketplace. In addition to offering high-quality food & beverage products, we also work with our clients to develop innovative solutions based on their specific market needs.