Gate Gourmet serves up new dishes to airline passengers

By Joel Hall


The 9/11 terrorist attacks had far-reaching consequences on the airline industry, impacting security, increasing costs, and lowering ridership.

To deal with the cutbacks, many major airlines have stopped offering amenities, such as complimentary meals, on many of their domestic flights.

Through new marketing strategies and creative dishes, however, businesses like Gate Gourmet -- which supply food to the airlines -- are starting to make a comeback.

"We did a lot of meals prior to Sept. 11," said Gate Gourmet General Manager Phil Breland. "After that, the airline industry definitely suffered, and because of that, some of the things offered to passengers have been reduced."

However, Breland said that Gate Gourmet is "cautiously optimistic," noting that several airlines have started allowing meals on shorter flights as well as à la carte items passengers can purchase, such as different types of gourmet sandwiches.

"There has definitely been an upgrade in the quality of meals lately," said Breland. "A few years ago, if you flew a three-and-a-half hour flight, you may not have gotten a meal, but now you might."

Another recent addition to items provided by Gate Gourmet are meals inspired by celebrity chefs. Delta Air Lines, one of Gate Gourmet's major clients, recently teamed up with Todd English to create a variety of new and trendy menu items. Top chefs from Gate Gourmet have worked with English to recreate those items for airline consumption.

"I think a lot of the airlines are going with what's current," said Keith Jackson, senior operations manager of Gate Gourmet. Instead of the traditional ham and cheese sandwich, he said Gate Gourmet is offering items such as chicken parmesan sandwiches served on focaccia bread, humus with vegetables, and chicken bistro salads.

"They are kind of giving you a taste of everything," said Jackson. "The chicken parmesan sandwich is something that you would get at a restaurant."

"We are completely tied to what occurs in the airline industry," said Christina Ulosevich, manager of corporate communications for Gate Gourmet. "When anything volatile occurs, we definitely feel the impact. When things go well with the airlines, they are able to offer more inspiration and innovation when it comes to food and amenities.

"The thing that's nice about Todd English working with us is that his dishes are primarily targeted toward economy class passengers," Ulosevich continued.

"Now pretty much anybody is able to enjoy a signature dish from somebody they may have seen on TV."