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An airplane's galley is the activity hub where in-flight meals, snacks and beverages are stored, prepared and assembled. Not limited to edibles, there must be utensils, service ware, hygienic and miscellaneous items for assisting passengers. Airline catering agents are key in making sure every flight is stocked according to individual airline specifications
According to the official website of AVJOBS, an airline occupational human resources company, an airline catering agent is “responsible for all aspects of catering line operations including loading and unloading catering equipment and supplies, driving large catering trucks and checking and verifying inventories of supplies and food products.”
Supplying passengers with nourishment and drink began in the mid-1930s when Pan American Airlines started giving its customers cooked in-flight meals, according to a timeline published on The Orange County Register newspaper website. There are also tales, however, of the food growing cold quickly because of altitude and inadequate insulated storage. Once the galley prep area was installed later that decade, in-flight catering flourished; some even offered champagne and gourmet menus through 2000. The 21st century brought financial woes to the airline industry and in turn affected the duties of airline caterers.
The rough economy forced airlines to slash budgets and curtail free passenger comforts. Beverages carried an extra in-flight fee and the once-complimentary pretzels were eliminated to help commercial airlines survive. These drastic cuts forced airline caterers to explore innovations to assist airlines in revamping passenger hospitality services. Catering agencies had to develop food processing, packaging and menu items to fit the concept of onboard customer purchase, such as unique sandwiches and side dishes that lent themselves to a concessionaire-type system.
Based on the need for innovative food offering processes, in-flight caterers work closely with the individual airlines’ in-flight service and food and beverage operations representatives. Caterer chefs develop recipes and menus based on those meetings, taking into consideration any special ethnicity, religious or dietary requirements the airlines want to provide. The caterers’ commercial production kitchens then prepare and process. Meals are cooked, assembled and packed for storage in either deep frozen trays, bagged fresh or ambient temperature “box meals.”
Combining the prepared food, equipment and necessities for a particular flight’s order is done at a central production unit, according to LSG Sky Chef’s food management representative, Pinar Meitzner. On its official business website, Meitzner says, “We’ll combine … at the catering facility and only two outer cartons fitting into one-half size trolley will be delivered. It ensures a very lean process at the catering facility.” Each order is then loaded on a truck, driven to the plane and loaded on board. A caterer getting in and out of the planes on time is key to logistical schedules. This can become a pivotal part of the load time equation, as LSG Sky Chef’s website states, “Predeparture loading can include up to 200,000 items for an international flight from the U.S. to Asia.”
Sheri Lacker has more than 30 years' experience as a writer, photographer and multimedia artist. Her work has been used by Warner Brothers, Barbour/Langley and Casey Kasem Presents, among others. Her awards include the Theatre Excellence Scholarship and Guest-Artist-in-Res. Lacker studied journalism, Web design and historical research at the University of Memphis.