Height Cuisine

Ten months in development, and made to taste good at 35,000 feet, the Flying Burger will be available on flights next month.

BA is one of the leaders of the “height cusine” concept, recognising that food tastes different at altitude because of the effect on the tastebuds. So Mark Tazzioli and BA have been working on a special burger recipe.

We understand that the burger is made from three different cuts of British beef (chuck, cheek and onglet) to ensure full flavour, even in an airplane cabin pressurised to about 8,000 feet.

The beef will be British, but Monterey Jack cheese will feature, as will gherkins, tomato relish, and the very trendy brioche bun.

It will be served with a side of triple-cooked chips and choice of relishes.


The following article was published by British Airways on 1st January 2013 and, we feel, fits in nicely with their on-going Height Cuisine program as featured in our recent post.

“British Airways takes the 500,000 cases of wine it serves on board in a year very seriously.

The in-house team work with Master of Wine, TV host and international author, Jancis Robinson in selecting the best wines for the sky.

Wines from vineyards and wineries around the world are shortlisted and sent to British Airways’ headquarters in London. Tastings are carried out every couple of months with the panel. The wines are always tasted ‘blind’ to ensure the decision is made purely on the flavour of the wine.

When choosing a wine to go on-board a flight a number of things are taken into account – the quality of the wine, the quantity that can be produced, and whether it complements the food on board.

Of course, how it tastes is also a key factor, however, at 35,000ft tastebuds lose about 40 per cent of their ability to differentiate between flavours, so Peter and the team have to ensure that they buy wines that can still be enjoyed at altitude. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be very high in alcohol content. It is worth remembering that flying at high altitude in a pressurised cabin makes one glass in the air equal two on the ground.

Overly acidic wines or those with high levels of tannin are avoided because these characteristics become more pronounced in the air.

The team select different wines for each cabin. There are some consistent favourites – in First class there will be an exclusive champagne, and usually a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon in the selection. In addition there will be a further two whites and two reds plus dessert wines. In Club World, champagne, sauvignon and merlot are popular choices. One more red and one white are also on the menu. First class and Club World passengers have a choice of wines from one of the classic European wine regions as well as from the continent they are travelling to.

In World Traveller Plus and World Traveller, wines are served in quarter bottles, which have proven very popular with customers. These will also often be a sauvignon or merlot.

On an average flight to New York, A BA plane carries 35 bottles of wine in FIRST, 84 bottles in Club World and 390 quarter bottles in World Traveller plus and World Traveller plus.”


In a previous article we explained how British Airways had teamed up with Twinings to improve the taste of the tea it served. Serving a decent cuppa is just part of the airline’s campaign to improve the quality of all the food and drinks it serves inflight and, to this end, it has come up with a specialist Height Cuisine program.

The problem that all airlines face is that, flying at 39,000 feet, altitude, cabin pressure and humidity all have a significant effect on what we eat and drink. As Sinead Ferguson from the airline has to say “At British Airways, we know that dining at altitude can have a dramatic impact on our senses. With the atmosphere being so dry in the pressurized cabin, the ability to smell and taste can be reduced by up to 30%. So Height Cuisine is basically the approach British Airways is taking to understand how we can provide great-tasting food and drink on board our flights.”

As part of a tv documenary series aired in the UK, British Airways invited world-famous chef Heston Blumenthal to look into ways of improving the dining experience across all their cabins from World Traveller to First Class. While the nature of television meant that the program was as much about entertainment as research, it did alert many viewers to the unique problems that airlines face. On a more scientific basis therefore , British Airways also brought in Leatherhead Food Research to conduct detailed research into the problems associated with high-altitude dining.

Amongst their findings, it seems clear that more delicate foods are most affected by the conditions onboard and that our sense of bitterness increases. Other studies support this.  In the past, airline caterers have also tried to compensate for such problems by adding additional salt to their recipes, something which in more health-conscious times everyone would like to avoid. Research has shown that one way to replace salt-heavy dishes is to use ingredients that contain umami.

The big winner in the taste stakes being ice cream which continues to taste good at altitude.

For further information about Britsh Airways Height Cuisine program, click here and visit the airline’s dedicated Taste Club website.


Now for the science…

The air pressure inside the cabin is called the equivalent effective cabin altitude or more usually – the cabin altitude. This directly relates to atmospheric pressure, so if the cabin altitude was zero then the pressure inside the cabin would be the same pressure as at sea level. To preserve the life of the aircraft’s fuselage and for other practical reasons, cabins are virtually never kept at sea level pressure. For example, the cabin altitude of an aircraft cruising at 40,000 ft  might typically be between 6,900 and 8,000 ft.

The Airbus A380 can have a pressure of 5,000 ft when cruising at 43,000 feet*. Good news for customers who will be flying on the new British Airways A380. * Wikipedia