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As pandemic limits travel, Japanese airlines' sale of in-flight meals takes off

This photo shows ANA's in-flight meal beef Hamburg steak with demi-glace sauce that will go on sale online on Jan. 26. (Photo courtesy of All Nippon Airways Co.)

NARITA, Chiba -- Japanese airlines have found success in the sale of in-flight meals for those who cannot fly abroad but want to savor them amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

    All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA) has sold its meals online three times since last December so people can enjoy them at home. All of its meals sold out within a few days, and the airline plans to add a new dish to the menu on Jan. 26. Japan Airlines Co. (JAL), meanwhile, has been serving in-flight meals at a restaurant near Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, and also started selling the fare abroad in January for the first time.

    This photo taken at Narita International Airport on Jan. 15, 2021, shows the chicken curry that has been served at ANA's lounges for international flights. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

    ANA sold the same kind of meals as those available in its international flights' economy class twice in December 2020, and a total of 1,200 cases -- or 14,400 meals -- were snapped up in a few days. An assortment of three kinds of main dish for the New Year and another assortment of three kinds of local "donburi" rice bowl dishes went on sale on Jan. 18, and a total of 2,000 sets -- or 24,000 meals -- were sold out next day. Analyzing the reason for their popularity, an ANA representative commented, "Customers want to enjoy an extraordinary experience of sorts that can be found on planes."

    ANA will start selling Western and Japanese assortments of meals on Jan. 26. Each assortment includes 12 meals consisting of three types of dishes, and is priced 9,000 yen (about $87). The Western menu consists of hashed beef simmered with red wine, beef Hamburg steak with demi-glace sauce and basil-flavored seafood simmered with tomato sauce. The Japanese menu consists of a bento of beef sukiyaki on rice, fried chicken and vegetables, and white-meat fish teriyaki.

    In addition, the airline is selling chicken curry served at special lounges for international flights at Narita, Haneda and Kansai airports. The curry, with chunks of chicken and vegetables, has a mild, homemade flavor with a spicy aftertaste. ANA has also started selling dishes, cups and plates for in-flight meals, and plans to also sell in-flight amenities including bedclothes. By diversifying its business amid a decline in earnings it hopes to shore up its revenue.

    JAL was the first to start selling in-flight meals, serving them at the "Dinning Port Goryokaku" farm restaurant in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, from July 2020 before offering them at Roadside Station Tako Ajisai-kan in the neighboring town of Tako in December that year. The airline is also selling meals at a restaurant at Chubu airport in central Japan. JAL's beef curry, which has been served only at the lounges at Narita and Haneda airports and has a reputation as a unique and secret gem, went on sale online in August the same year, and was sold out in four months.

    A JAL ground staff worker in uniform, left, serves an in-flight meal at Roadside Station Tako Ajisai-kan in Tako, Chiba Prefecture, on Dec. 20, 2020. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

    JAL is selling two varieties of in-flight dishes -- salmon grilled with "miso" fermented soy bean paste, and chicken and egg cooked together -- at a restaurant in Singapore in January for a limited time only. This will be its first attempt to sell the meals abroad.

    "We are working to ensure people retain an interest in trips to Japan, which were growing in number year by year, and that they will visit Japan when the situation improves," said a representative of JAL. "We hope to remind people of the fun of flights."

    JAL's Singaporean cabin attendants have introduced "furoshiki" wrapping cloths and "origami" folding paper to customers at the restaurant so that they can touch Japanese culture -- a move that has been well received.

    Meanwhile, in-flight meal manufacturer Gate Gourmet Japan Ltd., based in Narita, began selling Western, Chinese and Thai food online in December 2020. A chef who supervises and cooks in-flight meals for first-class customers on international flights was involved in developing the items. As the precooked meals are vacuum packed, purchasers can easily enjoy genuine airline course meals by boiling the packs.

    (Japanese original by Tadakazu Nakamura, Narita Bureau)

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