Is a Burger Appropriate for a First Class Meal?

Lucky wrote about British Airways adding a burger to their first class menu.

This is somewhat controversial because,

  • A burger strikes some people as hardly befitting international first class.
  • It can be tough to do a good burger in the air.
  • It can be tough for British Airways to do decent food even on the ground (please see “Concorde Room“).

The idea of a British Airways first class burger is an interesting one.

The Concorde Room burger is indeed awful.

I’ve ordered it, but I’ve not taken more than a bite or two.

ANA used to do a great job with their burger (snack) in first class

This is something people actually wanted and talked about. That such a thing exist is proof enough that it is possible.

But airplane burgers usually do not look very good

They usually look exactly like what American’s first class burger appeared to be, circa 2010 and 2011.

United actually did a decent job with their ‘gourmet burger’

I’m not talking about the Continental cheeseburger that came to United, that was bad.

But a real ‘gourmet’ burger was introduced to domestic first class in the late spring 2001. It was terribly controversial, the idea that this somehow was appropriate for a first clsss lunch service. It wasn’t awful, in fact many reports are it was quite good. This July 2001 Flyertalk discussion sprang to mind.

Burgers aren’t controversial for hotels

I’m not sure why we like burgers in hotels so much (and indeed, it’s one of the most popular items from room service by a large amount) but don’t like burgers to be served by airlines.

It does look better on the ground, though.

Fries matter, and those are tough to do in the air

Etihad does a decent job with fries… sometimes.

Here are fries from about a month ago..

And from about a year ago..

The quality varies tremendously, and Etihad first class features an onboard chef. Most airlines don’t even try to attempt fries in the sky.

Alternatives to the first class burger

I’d suggest airlines mimic the steak sandwich instead of the burger, either the version offered by Qantas or by Etihad.

Of course that won’t come close to the best meal on a plane.

And if it’s comfort food they’re after, it seems like it would be hard to top nasi goreng

Still, I don’t think this is a terrible move for BA. It all comes down to how it tastes. We’ll begin to get reports soon!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Nothing wrong with burgers in the air, my main problem is generally the quality of any bread product seems to be terrible in the air. Not sure why considering the massive catering companies involved but getting a decent croissant always seems to be impossible as well.

  2. I had an amazing gourmet burger in the private room (Singapore airlines 1st class lounge at SIN). I would consider that good enough for a first class flight (although they don’t actually serve it in the air, just the lounge).

  3. Speak for yourself about the CO ‘glued to the plate with chesee’ cheeseburger. I loved those things and miss them quite a bit!

    Yes, the burger is perfectly acceptable, but, as you point out, only if its done properly.

  4. I had a CX “snack” burger a couple of weeks ago, and it was actually pretty good.

    Perhaps the reason us Americans eschew a burger as not befitting first class is because when we think burger, we think dollar menu at McDonalds? It’s not like you will find them at top restaurants in the US.

  5. I think their idea here is decadent. Having something one wouldn’t normally find/have at 35,000 ft.. done well (no pun intended) with a great side of fries, it could be great.

    My problem with this is, the last time I flew F back from LHR to SFO, I had eaten the Burger in the CCR in LHR and well, the flight back wasn’t pretty. For me and my #1 1K GF (who also had eaten the burger) we both put most of our F miles in the lav (thankfully the forward cabin purser dedicated one of the F lavs just for us – so we got that going for us)

    I wouldn’t be able to get her to eat this burger in F for 10,000$.

  6. No, I don’t think it’s a terrible move either. My husband is not a “fancy food” person, and our trips in first class / business class always leave him (and sometimes me) still a bit hungry because we’re not always fans of the food. We have occasionally asked flight attendants to bring us a meal from coach, and we get some strange looks, but nobody has ever protested it. So, I for one am happy to see this type of addition to a first class menu. Now let’s just hope it’s good!

  7. I have a now 8 year old that has quite a lot of First Class international flights. I am sure he would have opted for the burger more often then not :-). A lot of the first class meals are not really that easy for kids and our son is not picky and we try to give him healthy food.
    The best food he had was on Swiss F where the FA did cut his Swiss grilled sausage for him and it had nice sides and vegetables.
    I can see children in F and C quite often so there is a customer base :-).

  8. PMUA used to serve the burger as a meal option on the p.s. transcon lunch/dinner flights. It wasn’t bad, with fresh veggies and pickles, and in fact would be a change of pace since they haven’t changed the menu for at least a year now.

  9. I don’t think a steak sandwich is likely to have better odds of success. There’s a good chance that the meat will be too tough to bite through. The burger may be dry and overcooked, but at least you’ve got a fighting chance to get a bite of it.

    The key with airline food should be to work with, rather than against, the limitations on preparation. Most airline food is reheated. I have no idea why airlines ignore this reality and keep trying to offer “ground food” in the air. They should go with foods that improve with reheating. Make a virtue of necessity.

    If the goal is a tasty sandwich, pulled pork or some sort of braised beef would be a much better bet (so long as the meat is heated separately and the sandwich assembled on the plane). They could also do a carnitas torta or a meatball sub. Definitely not fancy, but all have much better odds of success.

  10. Alaska’s Angus Cheeseburger is better than most fast food burgers. I’d take it as the meal for flights under four hours.

  11. Good point on heating it separate. You could easily do a decent burger by just reheating the meat and leave the lettuce, tomato etc. alone. Reheating ground meat is easier then doing the same to higher end meats. Only issue is not having a toaster so the bread would be a bit debatable.

  12. +1 on Alaska serving a good burger. I think it all comes down to the execution- it doesn’t matter the menu item so much, but good quality ingredients make for a tasty meal no matter what it is. I never expected to see a “beef” (which turned out to be steak) burrito in first class before, but surprisingly it turned out to be among the better airline meals I’ve had (United).

  13. Why not provision the burgers raw and cook them in the air? I realize aircraft galley ovens can’t produce the 1850F temperatures delivered by restaurant-grade broilers (e.g., Salamander). But a cast iron pan and a galley oven at 500F should be able to cook a very decent burger (or a few burgers) in 10 minutes or less. This isn’t feasible for a J cabin, but for long-haul F, the galley-to-passenger ratio should be acceptable for in-flight cooking.

  14. I don’t see anything wrong with offering a burger in First Class as an option. While the origin of a burger is firmly grounded in pop culture, today it has evolved into something that can be made “gourmet” — not to mention that it is beloved regardless of its roots or class “niche!” The real question here is whether or not they will get it right (taste, temperature of the meat, etc.).

  15. The burger I had on NRT-LAX flying ANA was pretty good. Especially considering it was on the Snack Menu for Business Class. Together with the Tomato Soup and Ice Cream it was a full meal in midflight. The taste of the burger and the quality of the condiments was very good!

  16. I’m surprised you think making a good burger in the air would be hard, considering the number of rubber chicken dinners flying around up there. A burger has to be easier to heat and serve than chicken breast.

    As for comparing them to hotel hamburgers, I’ve had that Hyatt burger you refer to, and I raved about it afterwards. Probably the best burger I’d ever had, except for homemade burgers off my parents’ grill.

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