If necessary, it can have customised information printed on it, and it can be used in combination with oven-proof CPET trays, for instance as packaging for in-flight food. Photo: Bordex Packaging
Special packaging on flights
But when you’re 30,000 feet (11,000 metres) in the air, a sandwich doesn’t taste the same as it does on the ground. For some people, this may well be because they’re scared of flying and are therefore feeling a bit queasy. In reality, however, it’s our taste buds – or rather the cabin pressure in the aircraft – that can be deceptive. This has been one of the findings at the flight lab of the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Physics in Germany. On board an aircraft, salt is apparently perceived as 20 to 30 per cent less intensive than on the ground, while sugar loses 15 to 20 per cent of its intensity. This is also why strongly salted tomato juice is such a popular drink at high altitudes.
But to give passengers the right kind of food, it’s not enough to spice it up fairly well. The food also needs to be packaged correctly. First of all, it mustn’t weigh too much, as every gram means extra spendings on fuel.
In-flight packaging must be light. Heat-resistant film for baked goods combines maximum protection with convenience and a thin design. Photo: RAP
Handy mini formats
At the same time, the food has to be extremely well protected, and the packaging must be convenient. This is partly a matter of size, but partly also of practicality. Passengers are generally familiar with those special little cans for soft drinks, beer and cocktails. Holding just 150 millilitres, they don’t take up much space on a cabin trolley or folding tray, and they're also quick to drink. As a result, the airline can sell more, and less gets spilled during turbulences.
Anyone ordering coffee, at least in economy class, is usually given some loose granulate packaged in stick sachets, with hot water added. Depending on the airline and the available product range, those coffee sachets sometimes even come from well-known brands such as Starbucks and Illy. The in-flight catering market is popular among food and beverage companies throughout the world. It enables them to test how consumers respond to new products, and the mini portions for flights can later be adjusted for mass production.
Single portions don’t take much space on a flight and are handy to use. Photo: Illy
Heat and frost-resistant materials
Another frequent requirement on in-flight food packaging is that it must be heat and frost-resistant. Refrigerated paninis, wraps and sandwiches are mostly served hot. But when tens of thousands of dishes are sold on board every day, there’s not much time left for unwrapping. The food has to be heated up in the oven or microwave – within the packaging. The disposable boxes sometimes need to be heat-resistant for up to 210°C, so that special materials are required. Trays made from CPET (crystalline polyethylene terephthalate) keep their shape even at high temperatures. Self-ventilating film ensures that any steam can easily escape. The trays must also be quick to open and easy to print on. In addition, any packaging must meet strict food safety standards.