Heavenly service

Grilled fillet of beef, tar-flavoured salmon crowned with crushed rye crispbread, sautéed game, a Japanese appetiser selection, blackcurrant and white chocolate mousse, and Nordic Gourmet chocolates. Sounds almost like a restaurant menu, but these items are actually served in business class on Finnair flights. How does all that end up on aircraft for passengers to enjoy?

Few passengers give much thought to the food served on a flight or to the equipment required to serve it before the cabin attendant arrives with the serving trolley. Much has had to happen to the food and and other items before this point.

The path followed by the food is quite a logistics chain. In Finnair, everything begins from when the airline and the catering company, Finnair Catering, determine and agree the level of service to be offered on a flight. It is not just question of food, but of drinks, sales products and the tableware required for serving. And a place has to be found for everything in the aircraft’s kitchen, the galley. With respect to the Airbus A330/A340 wide-bodied aircraft used on long-haul flights, there is kitchen space to be found in the fore, aft and middle sections of the aircraft.

In an example case, a customer books a trip on Shanghai flight AY057. In the morning, around one day before the flight departure, Finnair Catering’s food orderer, based on the flight bookings, makes an advance order for the following day and then confirms it the same afternoon. The preparation of the meals already begins on the basis of the advance order. The ingredients for the meals and their availability has been checked earlier. For each flight, the meal orders arrive at Finnair Catering around three months previous to this. The final quantities of food required for a flight, however, become clear only around 20 minutes before departure.

As the flight in question is a long, ten-hour night flight, meals for both dinner and breakfast servings are prepared. The meals are brought to passengers on a tray, onto which the packer has placed plates, cups and food, in accordance with a layout agreed in advance. These trays have been packed into service trolleys. On our example Shanghai flight, business class is full, i.e. there are 42 passengers. There are the same number of trays for both dinner and breakfast.

The meals are prepared on chilled premises. Food to be heated up on the flight has been prepared by the kitchen in portion dishes, and these are packed into ovens. After this, the meal trolleys go into a large cold room (+3C) to chill further. In the cold room, the meals are assembled by flight and by kitchen. At the same time, the portion quantities are checked. The whole process is controlled by strict food safety and hygiene regulations. On the flight, the entire meal, right down to the glasses, is served with ‘hard’ tableware, for example porcelain dishes.

Elsewhere, drinks, sales items, preorder products, perfumes and alcoholic beverages are packed for the flight into cabinets and trolleys. The latest newspapers and magazines are also packed for the journey, and for the return flight, too.  Advance preparations ensure that as many foreign customers as possible will have something to read in their own language.

The aircraft is loaded around one hour before departure. In the loading process, all of the goods to be taken onto flights are assembled for each flight in turn. The Shanghai flight is loaded using three different catering lifting platforms: fore, middle and aft separately. The business class food and drinks go into the fore and middle sections, while the economy class food and drinks as well as sales products are stored in the aft section.

The aircraft is loaded according to precise instructions, with each serving trolley and cabinet put in its own numbered place. Food to be heated up, packed in racks, is placed in ovens. To ensure that the cold chain is not broken, the lifting platforms are chilled, and food is also stored in a cool place in the aircraft galleys.

The same process begins again when the aircraft returns from Shanghai. A local catering company replenishes the aircraft with new meals for the return flight. Tableware is unloaded from the aircraft and washed. Waste is processed.

Finnair Catering prepares more than 10,000 meals per day and works around the clock. Altogether, more than 40 cabinets and more than 40 serving trolleys are loaded onto one long-haul flight, a total of around 3,500 kilos. When thousands of products have been loaded and the pieces snapped into place, the journey can begin.

Jukka Partanen
Finnair Catering