When you sit down to dinner at a Michelin-starred establishment, of course you expect to be served on fine china. But did you know that many airlines also invest in the dishes and flatware they use? Sure, you’ll probably still be stuck with plastic cutlery and tiny tray tables packed with Tetris-like efficiency in coach. But if you’re flying up front, you just might be treated to a meal carefully arranged on fine bone china and sip on wines out of crystal glasses.
Here are some of the most interesting service-ware sets flying today, including those created by venerable luxury houses and cutting-edge designers alike.
1. Aer Lingus
Ireland is the home of some of the world’s most storied china and crystal factories, so it’s no wonder the country’s flag carrier takes pride in its porcelain. Aer Lingus serves international business-class passengers meals on Wedgwood china dishes created specially for the airline, while wines and other beverages are poured into Waterford crystal glasses. The patterns are simple, but with names like those, you don’t need to be too flashy.
2. Air France
Does any country in the world take its cuisine as seriously as France does? Not only does the nation’s largest airline serve premium passengers meals created by the likes of celebrity chef Daniel Boulud, but it also commissioned designer Jean-Marie Massaud to create custom tableware for its La Première (first) and business cabins. The first-class plates are made by Bernardaud in Limoges, while Guy Degrenne produces the business-class service-ware. Beveled glasses and cutlery in both cabins are crafted by famous French house Christofle, of course. Meanwhile the airline hired Eugeni Quitllet (a protégé of Philippe Starck) to create new eco-friendly tableware sets for its economy and premium economy cabins as well.
Delta has become known for forging partnerships with prominent luxury brands to provide the soft amenities in its business-class cabins including Westin Heavenly bedding and TUMI amenity kits stocked with Kiehl’s products. The airline took yet another step toward distinguishing its premium service recently, however, when it announced a new agreement with design company Alessi to provide the service-ware for its domestic first class, international business class and, later this year, to Delta Premium Select (premium economy) as well. The 86 unique new items include flatware, bone china, crystal glassware and stainless steel service pieces, not to mention napkin rings and salt and pepper shakers. The china has an understated appeal to it, with a spare, square aesthetic that looks equal parts midcentury Scandinavian and contemporary Japanese, while the crystal service is more curvaceous yet slim.
First-class meals on Emirates are multi-course affairs with delicacies like Iranian caviar and regional specialties based on your destination setting the tone. If you end up flying in one of the airline’s wood-paneled, gilt-trimmed suites, you can expect to eat those goodies off Royal Doulton bone china plates using cutlery created by British silversmith Robert Welch exclusively for the airline. The plates have unique undulating borders to them that resemble the fluffy clouds you might spot out your window that give the dining experience a “lighter-than-air” quality.
There are plenty of great reasons to fly Etihad first class — enormous suites with closing doors, fabulous amenities by Le Labo, and on-call chefs who will prepare what you want when you want it… and then serve it to you on Nikko fine bone china created in Japan. The dishes are unfussy and sleek with silver filigreeing around the edges. The cutlery, meanwhile, is from British design house Studio William’s streamlined Royal Oak collection.
Illustrious Dutch interior designer Marcel Wanders (you might recognize his work from the Mondrian South Beach and the Andaz Amsterdam) is the man behind KLM’s World Business Class tableware, including the cutlery, porcelain, glassware, linen and trays, all of which were produced to be as light as possible, and thus more eco-friendly (less weight requires burning less fuel). The slim cutlery items have handles with intricate etchings that are an allusion to traditional Dutch lace, while dishes and bowls have whimsical scalloped edges and the occasional pattern in bright Delft blue. The glasses, meanwhile, are sleek but sturdy… all the easier to lift for a refill.
Anyone who’s been to Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace knows how much Germans love their porcelain. That must be why Lufthansa commissioned the Dibbern workshop in Hoenberg to create fine bone china plates for its first-class passengers. Though simple, these dishes are nearly translucent thanks to their lightweight design. Wonder if the caviar they serve up there tastes even better when you eat them off of these…
The Aussie carrier commissioned David Caon, the industrial designer of the airline’s new 787 Dreamliner cabin interiors, to create an all-new 16-piece range of cutlery that fliers should start to see in first and business class, premium economy, and in Qantas’s network of lounges. The plates are made from fine bone china, while the new cutlery is brushed stainless steel and the glassware has a pared-down Space-Age aesthetic. Not only that, but the weight of the new service items is 11 percent less than those currently being used and should help Qantas save over a million pounds of fuel annually.
9. Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines pioneered the first-class suite with closing doors back in 2007, and it has the amenities to match, including Givenchy sheets and pajamas and Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kits. That level of excellence extends to meal service, which might include a caviar course followed by the airline’s signature lobster thermidore. To raise the standard of its meal service even higher, the airline commissioned a new set of bone china just for its own use from Wedgwood in 2015, and that’s what you’ll find aboard Singapore today. The plates are white with silver rims and textured, gray borders resembling crocodile skin that adds elements of exoticism and danger to what might just be one of the most delightful experiences in the skies.