Airlines are increasingly sprucing up their inflight meals to attract hungry business travellers, especially on medium-haul flights, the ones that are around four to five hours long.
On a short 60 or 90 minute flight, food might not be that much of an issue -- you can grab something before or after the flight. But airlines realise that if your stomach starts rumbling on a five-hour slog between Sydney and Perth (or longer if the headwinds are unhelpful) the onus is on them to tame your hunger.
Emirates, for example, serves a full meal with a full wine list on its trans-Tasman flights to Auckland and Christchurch, which are extended from the Middle Eastern carrier's flights from Dubai to Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
You'll see a starter like the soya chicken below, a main course, and then a large cheese board with a decent tawny port.
With the space that a larger Airbus A380 or Boeing 777 allows, you get much more than just a more spacious and comfortable seat: you get a proper meal.
With a change in timezones, that's ideal.
Eastbound morning trans-Tasman flights, where you might have had a chance to grab some breakfast before leaving home or in the lounge, serve lunch before arriving in NZ in the mid afternoon, usually around 3-4pm.
And the return flights, which leave in the early evening around 6-7pm, have a full dinner before you get back to Australia late in the evening.
Emirates' Vice President in charge of Catering, Robin Padgett, explains why his airline provides a decent meal.
"If you're flying in business class, you should be offered a full meal, and you should be offered a full wine list, with amazing quality wines from the great wine-growing regions of the world. You should have a great beverage list, with great whiskies, great cognacs and so on," Padgett enthused to Australian Business Traveller.
"The experience shouldn't be a cut-down experience. We think that's very, very important in differentiating ourselves from our competitors. We are very proud to be considered a full-service airline, and when we talk about full service, we don't think of that in terms of medium haul, long haul or ultra long haul flights," Padgett says.
"We think about that in terms of all of our flights, whether it's a short 45-minute flight between Dubai and Muscat, or a three-hour flight between Sydney and Auckland. Our aspiration is to ensure that you have a full-service look and feel to everything you get on board."
"For a three hour hop, there are no significant or insurmountable challenges in offering the same product in three hours as we would in a ten or twelve-hour flight. In fact, three hours is probably the perfect amount of time for us to be able to offer a perfect dining experience," Padgett concludes.
Similarly, when Virgin Australia launched its Coast-to-Coast flights on larger Airbus A330 aircraft in mid 2011, the airline really put its Luke Mangan-designed food forwards.
Impressively, the caprese starter compares well from the glossy PR shot above to our on-the-plane picture below.
Even frequent travellers like us were impressed by the level of detail: a decent champagne (Lanson black label, a very drinkable drop), hand-dressed salads and starters, and a posh dessert and cheese trolley with silver service.
In many ways, Australian business travellers are remarkably fortunate overall with inflight food: instead of a three-hour flight around Europe on an EU airline where you might get a light snack, we get a four-course meal across the country or over the Tasman.
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.