Why Is Airline Cutlery Always So Cold?

While airlines have made a conscious effort to improve the quality of in-flight food, there is one aspect of the airline eating experience that continues to puzzle passengers. When you receive your knife, fork and spoon, just why is airline cutlery always so cold?

Cold airline cutlery
The cold nature of airline cutlery has proved confusing for many airline passengers. Photo: United.

Pre-loaded carts

It does seem an odd one on reflection, but there is actually a relatively simple explanation for this phenomenon. Most airlines rely on pre-loaded meal carts in order to dispense food to their customers. This is the only feasible way that large amounts of restaurant food can be transported around the small amount of space available on an airliner in a suitably short period of time.

Once the meal carts are loaded, they contain trays featuring what you would usually expect to find on an airline buffet cart; ie. plates, side dishes, food, and cutlery. And the reason that the cutlery is so colds that the whole set-up is kept chilled, actually being located in chiller carts for the duration of the flight, until the cabin crew are ready to serve food.

Airline stowages

The stowages that carts are stored in on aircraft are fully refrigerated in order to achieve this purpose, with ventilation shafts included in one end in order to allow the cold air to flow through and ensure that airline food is kept fresh and consumable.

Airline cutlery
The quality of airline food has improved massively, as carriers have invested resources in delivering tasty cuisine. Photo: Chris Hoare via Flickr.

However, it’s possible on the odd occasion that you might encounter a slightly warmer knife and fork than you’ve come to be accustomed to! If this is the case then there are a couple of possible explanations for this.

Firstly, a small number of airlines bulk load cutlery, keeping it separate from their food provisions. However, in many cases, this won’t make any difference to the ultimate temperature of the cutlery, as the knives, forks and spoons are still stored in the refrigerated stowages. However, this doesn’t apply in all cases, and so sometimes you will receive a warmer knife and fork due to cutlery having been stored in a warmer location.

Shorter flights

Secondly, time is all-important as well. On some shorter flights, the cabin crew are summoned to serve food and drink almost immediately, and if you’re fortunate enough to be at the front of the queue then, quite simply, your cutlery won’t have been refrigerated for long enough to get cold!

Airline cutlery
An in-flight meal from a Beijing-Osaka flight, featuring slightly less cold plastic cutlery! Photo: 朕邦萬広 via Wikimedia.

While chilling food on airlines is vital in ensuring its freshness and eliminating bacterial growth, it also helps control humidity. This can be vital in the storage of certain meals, with aircraft food becoming ever more ambitious and complex in its scope.

So there is no great mystery as to why cutlery often arrives cold on flights, and considering the logistical complexity involved in delivering airline food in the first place, it’s unlikely that this small quirk will change any time soon.