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A Chat with the Zagat of Airline Food

Nik Loukas is an inspiration for anyone who loves flying, and anyone who loves eating, and everyone who loves eating while flying.

In this interview with Flight Chic, Loukas shares the details of his work of love, a documentary of fine inflight dining entitled: The Inflight Food Trip – It’s Not Just Plane Food!

The Ultimate Inflight Foodie

Loukas is perhaps the ideal person to come up with this type of project. Anyone who follows InflightFeed knows his ratings of the meals he experiences on his flights around the world are honest and objective. He may appreciate the complexities and challenges of in-flight meal preparation, but he doesn’t mince words and he maintains very high standards.

Loukas has also contributed articles about inflight dining on publications like CNN and Yahoo Travel, and has a regular column in Onboard Hospitality, a leading industry magazine, based in the UK, which looks at all facets of delivering superior passenger experience onboard.

For those who are picky enough about their meal service to choose an airline based on menu quality, Loukas is the Zagat of the skies.

After years working for airlines, first as cabin crew for Qantas then as a crew trainer and catering leader for Tiger Airways, he turned his passion for the skies and for high cuisine into the ultimate foodie guide for all things culinary at 30,000ft: InflightFeed.

Loukas still works in the industry, as a crew trainer for in-flight retail services company Retail inMotion, but he also finds time to keep up with his love of high-flying food and airline catering. He’s found enough time to work on the world’s first dedicated documentary of the in-flight meal preparation process.

To help The Inflight Food Trip—It’s Not Just Plane Food take off, Lukas has turned to crowdfunding.

With four days left at the time of writing, he’s very nearly to his goal of €9,800 (Though there are still some very dishy sponsorships open!)

The Inflight Food Trip—It’s Not Just Plane Food is more than a pet project to Loukas.

It is his way to share with the public why in-flight meals are more than what you see on the tray table in front of you, to lend some valuable behind-the-scenes insights to the process of meal planning and preparation which brings us fresher and more delectable food onboard every day.

Here’s what he told Flight Chic about his inspiration for the film and what it will take to deliver it to screens:

FC: What originally made you want to pursue a project this complex?

Loukas: I don’t think it’s been done on this level before. Sure, TV channels have gone into an airline caterer to film a specific airline. But we intend on telling the story on many different airlines across Europe, to show passengers exactly what happens behind the scenes.

FC: You first tried to fund the project on Kickstarter. What made Indiegogo a better platform for fundraising than Kickstarter, in the end?

Loukas: Kickstarter felt very US focused and we did not get the traction that we needed there. In the end we only raised 2.500 Euros there (which we didn’t receive). Yet, on Indiegogo we have already raised over 7.000!

FC: Tell me about your production partner for the film. How did you meet? What makes it a good film partnership?

Loukas: I met James over a year ago now after some initial enquiries via email to him. We met at BAFTA in London for a coffee and spent hours discussing my crazy idea. He instantly loved it, and from the start we got on like a house on fire. He’s very relaxed and easy going, yet also knows when to play director/producer. He’s also been a great mentor for me as it’s been my first time properly in front of the camera.

FC: Tell me how your industry experience has helped you develop special insights in this case?

Loukas: It’s been very helpful and opened a lot of doors for me. I first contacted airlines that I knew well, and that had a good story to tell. Everyone has been open, honest and upfront with us. They realise this is not an investigative/undercover horror airline meal documentary. Having an undertstanding of how the industry works has certainly helped us along the way. For example, I know what to expect when we head to an airline caterer: security process, cleanliness, etc. I’d like to think I know what to ask too!

FC: How will the film be distributed?

Loukas: Initially through some European film festivals in 2017, and I’d like to see if a mainstream channel or dedicated tv travel network may take it on.

FC: Do you think any of the airlines you’re working with might want to take the content for in-flight entertainment?

Loukas: One airline already has. We flew to Tokyo to film with SAS and part of our deal with them was to produce a short clip to be used on their social media platforms. It was well received. Then they asked James to edit it for their inflight entertainment, so it will hopefully be playing there very soon!

I always thought that airlines would be interested in highlighting their story on their IFE and before even starting this has already happened. I’m not sure if an airline would show the whole documentary that also highlights competitors.

How InflightFeed Got The Inside Track on SAS Meal Planning

FC: How did it come about that SAS partnered with you on this project? Can you share more about their involvement? I definitely like that they were the first to put this on IFE!

Loukas: SAS was actually the second airline that we worked with. We first worked with Air Baltic. I knew that SAS had, over the years, been focusing on the inflight product so I reached out to a contact there: Peter Lawrance, who is responsible for food and beverage planning for SAS worldwide. Peter suggested we visit Japan, because it’s just such a slick operation that their caterer has there. The Japanese team in Tokyo really know what to deliver to Peter without too much of a brief.

Their involvement in the documentary was basically for us to follow Peter around in Tokyo as he went through his menu presentation. However, we will also travel back to the home base of SAS to catch up with Peter in his home town. To get a feel of how they do things locally as well.

We received free tickets from SAS to go to Tokyo, and in return we provided two video options for them to use in-house on social media. The airline then decided they want to show a quick teaser on the IFE! The video itself is all about Peter and how he selects and plans meals on SAS flights.

SAS have been great, and Peter too, very upfront, honest. They allowed us to film whatever we wanted. I had no idea how long a menu presentation takes. If people think that I eat a lot of airline food they need to take a look at what Peter does! Granted, he only tests a mouthfull of each meal, but he tests every single meal that is going to be served on SAS flights.

We talked at length about the process he goes through in order to deliver a quality product inflight to customers.

There’s a real focus on Scandinavian cuisine, mixed with local touches from each port that they fly to.

What I loved most was the fact that Peter tried to stay away from using frozen vegetables were possible, and trying to use a local in-season fresh product instead.

If you look at some of the offerings that SAS have inflight, you’ll notice they are quite the ambassador for the Scandinavian region. The first European produced Sake from Norway and specially designed Mikkeller beer for SAS are some of the products they offer customers inflight.

Better Branding Through Home Cooking

FC: How do inflight meals help shape an airline brand, and how much do you think top-chefs matter?

Loukas: I’m not sure if top chefs really make a difference. Let’s face it, these chefs get paid a commission to have their name on the airlines’ menu. Sure, they create the concept initially, and they they would obviously train the airline catering kitchen chefs to create it also. But…they’re not the ones creating these dishes every day.

Does it make a difference to passengers? Perhaps. Does seeing Nobu’s name on the inflight menu card of Qatar Airways raise eyebrows? Perhaps. But does economy class get to every experience this? No!

For me, personally, I think airlines that reflect a flagships traditional cuisine is the way go. SWISS, Aegean, SAS and many more are great ambassadors for their respective regions.

Imagine being away from home for months, then stepping onboard your flight to go home, and during that flight you’re presented with a taste of home. Isn’t that nice? Or am I the only one who respects airlines that do this?

What It Takes to Fund This Inflight Foodie Treat

FC: Funding the film project is one thing, but you need to make a living. Could this lead to a future video blogging transformation for InFlight Feed? A mini-travel channel perhaps?

Loukas: For our first run I think we are more than happy to just try and cover our costs. We have already both spent a considerable amount of money travelling around Europe and to Asia. A mini travel channel? I like that idea! But would people get sick and tired of watching airline food documentaries? My YouTube channel has done extremely well, and I don’t market it at all, so I really think there is a market for this.

FC: Can we expect a sequel?

Loukas: I hope so! We initially wanted to complete a worldwide documentary, but it’s too difficult to: 1- Raise funds. 2- Make it work whilst still trying to juggle a full time job.
I’ve had a number of airlines contact us as far as Tahiti, Australia and NZ, and whilst I’d jump at the chance to head over to these places to film, we need to be realistic and take small steps…

FC: When Kickstarter failed, you almost gave up, but you didn’t! Even the work you do every day for InflightFeed requires a tremendous amount from you. What keeps you going?

Loukas: Yes, almost gave up, but had to give it at least one more go.

It doesn’t feel like work, I really enjoy flying around, taking photos, writing blog posts, keeping the food menu information as up to date as possible.

I feel as though a lot of passengers still don’t know about some of these great meal services that airlines offer.

I’ve been doing it for love for four years and I think now it’s just starting to pay off. I do think that I need to look at taking the website to the next level though. I have been approached by a number of airlines and travel companies that want to work on sponsored posts, competitions, etc. I may look at these in 2017.

FC: What sponsorships are still available for The Inflight Food Trip and what are you offering sponsors?

Loukas: There are some very cool perks. Backers can come behind the scenes with us and hang out on set, or even be in the movie. You can give as much or as little as you want.

1 thought on “A Chat with the Zagat of Airline Food”

  1. Pingback: Happy Shoppers: Qatar Airways Makes $528 Million Selling Duty Free – Flight Chic

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