Korean Air
Korean Air
Korean Air ranks in the top ten because of its excellent ethnic dishes, which include steamed oxtail, Korean bibimbop and top-grade cuts of beef.
updated 10/25/2007 3:15:32 PM ET 2007-10-25T19:15:32

No longer need you be grounded to enjoy a four-star meal. These days, you can be 35,000 feet up.

Caviar and Dom Perignon? Five flights of fresh seafood? A low-calorie, six-course spread? Airlines' newest first-class menus promise all this and more.

"Much like the overall first-class product, food in first class has become more luxurious in recent years," says Edward Plaisted, chief executive of Skytrax, a London-based airline and airport quality ranking firm. "It's not just about serving multi-course meals anymore. Airlines are focusing more on creating a personalized and superior quality experience."

Usually, airlines serve pre-cooked, reheated food. But book a first-class seat on Gulf Air, and an actual chef will be aboard to prepare your meal and present it artistically on bone china. You might find such dishes as honey glazed quail on a sweet potato cake or Arabic spiced veal ragout.

Tere's no reheating toast or eggs when you fly Cathay Pacific's top-tier cabin. The airline has skillets and toasters on board, so eggs are made to order and bread is freshly toasted. Rice dishes are prepared fresh thanks to rice cookers on board.

Super suppers
These extraordinary amenities have earned Gulf and Cathay the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, on Skytrax's annual survey of the best first-class food. The survey was conducted from August 2006 to June 2007, and is based on a variety of sources, including online and e-mail passenger interviews, business research groups, travel panel interviews, corporate travel questionnaires and phone interviews.

The upgrades airlines have made to their catering means they are spending more per meal. Skytrax estimates a first-class meal now costs carriers between $25 and $50, a significant jump from five years ago.

Ethnic airlines in particular are making strides.

"Airlines based in Asia and the Middle East have escalated their first-class dining to a level where it really pops," says Aram Gesar, editor of the New York-based AirGuide magazine and AirGuideonline.com, publications for frequent travelers.

Singapore Airlines, for instance, which is ranked third in Skytrax's survey, gives passengers the choice of Krug or Dom Perignon champagne upon boarding.

Servruga, the luxurious Iranian caviar, is served before the main meal, which is presented on Givenchy china. Dishes such as Wagyu beef and Korean-style eel fillet are designed by a team of nine top chefs from around the world, including Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar & Grill in New York City.

Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines
First-class passengers get a choice of Dom Perignon or Krug champagne when they board and are served Servruga caviar before their main meal. A team of nine top chefs from around the globe, including Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar & Grill in New York City, have created dishes that include Korean-style eel fillet and Wagyu beef. All meals are served on Givenchy china.
Qatar Airways, based in Doha, landed sixth in the Skytrax survey because of the upgrades it has made in the last 18 months. Menus are presented in leather-bound folders, and the airline offers a 10-course meal aloft. Selections include traditional Arabic mezze, such as tabouli and hummus, Middle Eastern breads like lavash and a main course of lobster tail and pan fried chicken stuffed with feta and tomatoes. If you still have room, you can end your meal with warm chocolate cake with almond sauce, a cheese platter and freshly brewed cappuccino.

If you want a low-calorie meal or want your meal served all at once, rather than as a parade of courses, you have these options. In fact, almost all airlines with first-class cabins now let passengers choose what kind of meal they want and when they want to eat it. Pre-set menus and dining times are a thing of the past. Flexibility defines the new first-class dining.

The youngest entrant to this year's survey is Jet Airways, which came in 10th. This Indian airline debuted its international first class in the last year and is already getting high marks for its authentic Indian cuisine, which includes dishes such as chicken breast in cashew cream sauce with a trio of lentils, and a selection of local breads, including chappati and naan. The food is so superior that Skytrax expects the airline to land a top-five spot in the 2008 survey.

Masterful meals indeed. And why not? With today's average first-class, round-trip ticket costing $13,000, fresh toast seems not too much to ask.

© 2012 Forbes.com


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