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News Navigator: What's behind craze for Japanese airlines' in-flight meals at ground level?

Makoto Shimizu, executive western cuisine chef at ANA Catering Service Co., shows some in-flight meals sold online. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Japanese airlines' in-flight meals being sold online and served at restaurants.

    Question: I heard that an airline's in-flight meals are selling well. Is it true?

    Answer: Yes, in-flight meals from All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA) have been doing big business online; the airline has been selling 12 packs of main courses it serves in economy class on its international flights for 9,000 yen (about $83) almost every week since December 2020. They sometimes sell out in minutes, and in all about 450,000 meals have been shifted. Japan Airlines Co. took the lead in selling in-flight meals, and from July 2020, has been serving them at a restaurant near Narita International Airport run by its group company.

    Q: What makes them so popular?

    A: It's been over a year since the coronavirus first brought restrictions on international travel, and in the interim the meals have garnered a reputation for making you feel as if you're traveling while staying at home.

    Q: Do they taste different to real in-flight meals?

    A: ANA has been selling meals with the same flavors and packaging as actual in-flight meals. But low air pressure on flights compromises our sense of taste, and consequently in-flight meals are made to have strong flavor. To achieve this, special flavoring methods are applied including making thick broths and altering the ways seasoning and spices are used. Makoto Shimizu, executive western cuisine chef at ANA Catering Service Co., said, "Because they taste good even when eaten on the ground, I thought that serving them as they are would please customers. I was frustrated because, while we make great food, some people have an image of in-flight meals as not tasty. I'd like them to enjoy in-flight meals."

    Q: Why are airlines making an effort to sell them?

    A: It's become a new business avenue for airlines amid their cratering international flights passenger numbers, which are down more than 95% compared to before the pandemic. ANA has opened a "restaurant" on a large airplane parked at Haneda Airport, where customers can enjoy in-flight meals on board. It also plans to launch another on a stationary plane at Narita International Airport. Hopefully the coronavirus pandemic will end soon, and people will be able enjoy meals on international flights again.

    (Japanese original by Tadakazu Nakamura, Narita Bureau)

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