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Translation at 35,000 Feet: The World of Airline Menus
A specialized form of translation brings food, technology and project management together
There will always be a demand for in-flight meals, but the delivery of those meals is
changing. And menus are evolving to match these changes. As the diversity of the flying
public increases, so do the menus.
We now find formal, printed menus with gourmet cuisine moving primarily toward the
higher classes of service. Fast-food-style menus common on low-fare carriers have moved
to in-flight magazine pages or laminated cards. Some carriers have moved the menu to
online systems. Still others are pioneering pre-flight ordering, thereby allowing maximum
flexibility in dining and necessitating online delivery of the menu long before flight time.
The future of airline menus is moving toward divergence rather than convergence. Time-to-
market is decreasing as the menus are increasingly offered to passengers pre-flight. At the
same time, with passengers choosing their meals with increasing notice, catering will have
additional time to prepare meals, even if the menus must be set much longer in advance.
Low-fare carriers, particularly in Europe, tend to offer a laminated menu, brightly colored,
upbeat and busy, with the appearance and content similar to a cheery fast-food restaurant.
Other times, the menu is a page of the in-flight magazine. Of course, it’s food-for-purchase,
and, no, you can’t keep that menu — or the in-flight magazine. Both will be collected before
As technology advances, so does the delivery of the airline menu. Heiarii Robson, a purser
for Air France based in Papeete, Tahiti, says, “ANA, a Japanese carrier, has a channel on its
in-flight entertainment system with the menu.” Other times, the opposite is true: “Once
aboard an Air New Zealand flight from Papeete to Rarotonga and on to Auckland, the purser
announced the menu o