In a previous article we explained how British Airways had teamed up with Twinings to improve the taste of the tea it served. Serving a decent cuppa is just part of the airline’s campaign to improve the quality of all the food and drinks it serves inflight and, to this end, it has come up with a specialist Height Cuisine program.
The problem that all airlines face is that, flying at 39,000 feet, altitude, cabin pressure and humidity all have a significant effect on what we eat and drink. As Sinead Ferguson from the airline has to say “At British Airways, we know that dining at altitude can have a dramatic impact 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%. So Height Cuisine is basically the approach British Airways is taking to understand how we can provide great-tasting food and drink on board our flights.”
As part of a tv documenary series aired in the UK, British Airways invited world-famous chef Heston Blumenthal to look into ways of improving the dining experience across all their cabins from World Traveller to First Class. While the nature of television meant that the program was as much about entertainment as research, it did alert many viewers to the unique problems that airlines face. On a more scientific basis therefore , British Airways also brought in Leatherhead Food Research to conduct detailed research into the problems associated with high-altitude dining.
Amongst their findings, it seems clear that more delicate foods are most affected by the conditions onboard and that our sense of bitterness increases. Other studies support this. In the past, airline caterers have also tried to compensate for such problems by adding additional salt to their recipes, something which in more health-conscious times everyone would like to avoid. Research has shown that one way to replace salt-heavy dishes is to use ingredients that contain umami.
The big winner in the taste stakes being ice cream which continues to taste good at altitude.
For further information about Britsh Airways Height Cuisine program, click here and visit the airline’s dedicated Taste Club website.
Now for the science…
The air pressure inside the cabin is called the equivalent effective cabin altitude or more usually – the cabin altitude. This directly relates to atmospheric pressure, so if the cabin altitude was zero then the pressure inside the cabin would be the same pressure as at sea level. To preserve the life of the aircraft’s fuselage and for other practical reasons, cabins are virtually never kept at sea level pressure. For example, the cabin altitude of an aircraft cruising at 40,000 ft might typically be between 6,900 and 8,000 ft.
The Airbus A380 can have a pressure of 5,000 ft when cruising at 43,000 feet*. Good news for customers who will be flying on the new British Airways A380. * Wikipedia