As Aziz Ansari's character Tom Haverford says on Parks and Recreation, sometimes, you really must "treat yo self." And when better to do that than when traveling? Especially internationally. You're already on your way to a destination of your dreams, so why not splurge and get there in style by traveling first class.
First class — those two words alone can easily fill your mind with grandiose mile-high visions: advanced boarding, complimentary champagne, plush oversized seats, soft cotton PJs, excessive extra legroom, an amenity kit packed with designer toiletries and gourmet meals. Wait, gourmet meals? On an aircraft?
Yes, gourmet meals accompanied by top-shelf liquors and premium wines — all from expansive menus. Even though there may not be a fully equipped kitchen on board, a number of airlines are making sure there's food from an award-winning chef along for the trip, made from a variety of quality ingredients that have made their way through a scientific process to make them as appealing as possible at 30,000 feet.
British Airways menu design manager Sinead Ferguson understands just how important this process is; after all, flying factors such as altitude can have an impact on not only the dining experience, but also on our senses.
"With the atmosphere being so dry in the pressurized cabin, the ability to smell and taste can be reduced by up to 30 percent," he has said. So airlines have turned to chefs who are skilled in the science of creating gourmet airline food to make their first-class food options as delicious as possible.
For instance, renowned chef Joël Robuchon, working with Air France, heads up the Studio Culinaire Servair, a culinary think tank dedicated to in-flight cooking. And he's seen Multivac packaging machines and immersion circulators used on quality ingredients, allowing for undertones of decadence to thrive in his in-flight menus.
Not to be left behind in the quest to develop quality airline food, British Airways has brought on Heston Blumenthal to also help design their menu, American Airlines has chosen Marcus Samuelsson, Singapore Airlines Gordon Ramsay, and Qantas Neil Perry.
In an effort to ensure top-notch cuisine with regional authenticity, many airlines are going a step further and offering first-class passengers the opportunity to pre-order their in-flight meals, while others such as Turkish Airlines and Etihad are bringing those award-winning chefs we mentioned along for the trip, where they can put final first-class touches on custom meals.
Although they all might be a step above an economy-class meal, some first-class meals are better than others. Check out our slideshow to see our ranked list of the best of the best, based on breadth of menu choices (both food and drink), quality of ingredients, and presentation.
If you're going to splurge, well then, splurge, and enjoy a luxurioustrip while flying on one of these airlines and delighting in one of their dishes steeped in regional flavors.
1. Swiss Airlines
Swiss Airlines' Taste of Switzerland program was designed to highlight different regions of the country on flights throughout the year. Until September 2013, first-class passengers will enjoy meals inspired by the cuisine of Canton Nidwalden, featuring dishes such as beef tenderloin with ofetori, Nidwalden-style mashed potatoes made with veal bacon and cheese. First-class meals are also complemented by regional wines, and of course, no Swiss meal would be complete without a selection of local cheese.
2. Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines is known for immersing first-class passengers in the traditions and tastes of Asian cuisines; take their baked Chilean bass in Oriental XO sauce with mixed vegetables and fried rice as well as braised beef short ribs in Chinese wine and five-spice with mixed vegetables and egg noodles as examples. The pecan-crusted veal with red onion marmalade and candied sweet potatoes paired with vintage Dom Perignon is a nontraditional delight, however, for those who may want something a little more familiar. But whatever your entrée selection (passengers can select their meals ahead of time if they wish), it’s Singapore Airlines desserts, like raspberry tiramisu, that bring the travel experience to heavenly heights.
3. Air France
Servair and chef Joël Robuchon. Passengers can create custom salads to start their meal and then enjoy a farm-fresh main course accompanied by a basket of warm bread. And of course, every meal should be completed with a touch of refinement: a dessert created by Lenôtre, a fresh fruit basket, or a refreshing sorbet.
4. Cathay Pacific
While Cathay Pacific's Asian menu selections are breathtaking (such as their wonton soup and seafood stir-fry), the ricotta ravioli with cherry tomato ragù and arugula is an unexpected masterpiece. Because all dishes are made to order, passengers can choose what they'd like to eat from an array of Asian and international selections, all freshly prepared in a state-of-the-art galley boasting rice cookers, toasters, and steam ovens.
5. American Airlines
American Airlines is the first U.S. airline to offer first-class passengers the chance to reserve their meal selections ahead of time. So if you anticipate that you'll want roasted chicken with balsamic reduction, roasted sweet potatoes, and asparagus, you can make your selection well in advance of your flight. And if happen to have a sweet tooth, they're always serving a warm classic: chocolate chip cookies baked fresh onboard.
6. British Airways
There's nothing quite like the taste of the British countryside — breast of Gressingham duck with braised kohlrabi, parsnip mash, and caramelized apple and parsley sauce — especially when paired with a fine French Chablis wine. Drawing inspiration from one of London’s most luxurious and iconic hotels, The Dorchester, British Airways has added the indulgence of high tea for first-class passengers, featuring a selection of finely cut sandwiches and sumptuous cakes, served with a variety of teas from around the world.
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