A new calibre of sky-high dining: behind the scenes with Virgin Atlantic
Did you know that the way in which we taste and smell food at 30,000 feet is different to how our senses work on land? This shift in sensory perception is just one in a wide range of nuances that Virgin Atlantic’s team takes into account when crafting their inflight menus.
Every few months, Virgin Atlantic's food and beverage managers gather with the culinary leads from their global catering partners to innovate new in-flight dining ideas, factoring in everything from seasonality to customer reviews, fleet changes and destination inspiration.
Audrey Hart, senior manager – inflight services food, beverage and ancillaries at Virgin Atlantic, is at the beating heart of this process. As well as running her own celebration cake business, French-born Audrey uses her background in global VIP events in creating next-level dining options for the airline.
“It’s a cliché but I grew up in an environment where food is life, and wine, too,” Audrey says. “I’m an avid traveller as well, so I’ve always had an appreciation of different global cuisines, and how you can unlock local cultures by sharing food with families and friends.”
Audrey’s job brings her face-to-face with all the finer elements of inflight dining, whether that’s creating new Caribbean-inspired cocktails, driving forward sustainability measures such as canned wine, or finessing the spice levels in a sky-high curry.
With Virgin Atlantic now changing up its culinary offerings once again for the busy season ahead, Audrey gives us an inside look at the treats and trends to look forward to. And don’t forget: as a member of Virgin Red, you can spend points on Virgin Atlantic reward flights, or earn points as you fly, too.
Food that feels good
You might imagine that adventurous cuisine is a hit for jet set diners – but Audrey says familiar comfort food is equally in demand right now.
“Lots of customers like to enjoy dishes with a classically British taste. For example, our breaded chicken with potato terrine and spring greens is super-popular at the moment,” she explains. “Not everybody is completely comfortable being on an aircraft and crossing the ocean, so these kinds of authentic, home cooking-style dishes provide comfort; they’re something that the whole family can enjoy together.”
On the other end of the scale, some customers also crave special treats to mark the excitement of travel. “We want to create culinary touchpoints that feed the heart and the soul; and this includes honouring moments like your first drink of champagne when you arrive in Upper Class, or a movie treat that’s served as you settle into an inflight film,” Audrey says. “It might also be our landing sweet that signals a parting gift from the crew. All these little encounters are things that Virgin Atlantic customers look forward to. They tap into the senses, and signal that feeling of I'm going on holiday.”
This delight factor is also enhanced with self-service concepts such as the Virgin Atlantic Wander Wall, where Premium customers on the airline’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners can help themselves to drinks and snacks that are “sweet, savoury, naughty, nice – whatever people feel like”.
Wine with wow power
Of course, wine is also an important part of the Virgin Atlantic inflight experience. The airline has recently partnered with local London wine merchants Jeroboams to tap the extensive knowledge of their sommeliers, and showcase a range of classic Old and New World brands – including from Virgin Atlantic destinations such as South Africa and California – on their flights.
“Continuity is also key for us,” explains Audrey. “For example, if Upper Class customers taste a Chenin Blanc they love in a Clubhouse on land, we want to continue serving the same label during their flight, too.”
Virgin Atlantic will shortly be serving rosé wine in all classes (as opposed to just Upper Class), as well, in a nod to summer’s universal crowd-pleaser. And its upcoming wine tasting “booth”, exclusively available on its A350s, is a perfect example of the kind of private, curated experience that the airline excels in.
The new social space allows Upper Class customers the chance to sample three wines from award-winning canned wine producers The Uncommon, complete with self-guided tasting notes. A cognac tasting experience with chocolate pairings courtesy of the House of Delamain is also on the cards. “It's quite special to have that little bubble of privacy for customers to enjoy and experience for two – or solo, if they prefer,” Audrey says.
Being brilliantly different
Above all, Virgin Atlantic is constantly evolving its dining options, in a challenge that may involve anything from providing a kosher option for Upper Class customers travelling to Tel Aviv, to testing new menus at altitude (as well as on the ground), or dreaming up a brilliantly different experience that chimes with a new fleet of aircraft.
The airline’s focus on food sustainability, and “food that does good”, forms a major part of this iterative process. “We aim to provide food that is as authentic to the local environment as we can make it,” Audrey says. “We don't want to source products from the other side of the planet, just so that we can have strawberries on-board, for example, or a specific type of vegetable.”
“We regularly review our procurement decisions to ensure we have service partners and suppliers who adhere to our various high standards in areas such as fair farming, reduced plastic waste, and sustainable fisheries.”
Virgin Atlantic also has a series of core objectives in play when it comes to removing single-use plastics across the landscape of its aircraft and beyond. For example, the airline’s Upper Class services now use canned water that is recyclable, and more lightweight to transport. Canned varieties of Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc are also available from NICE wines, a Virgin StartUp business, in Virgin Atlantic’s Economy and Premium cabins.
Andrea says: “With all aspects of our inflight food and beverages, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. We are continually creating new menu cycles in different regions of the world, for food that does good and feels good, in every respect.”
Find out more about Virgin Atlantic, including best fares and destination inspiration. Remember, you can spend or earn points on a huge range of global flights, across all classes, with Virgin Red, including Virgin Atlantic reward flights, subject to availability (you’ll need to be a member of the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, too, and you can link both your accounts).