October 17, 2019
Singapore Airlines’ flight from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport to Singapore’s Changi Airport is already the world’s longest flight (at almost 19 hours). But this month, the route scooped up another (unexpected) superlative: the flight that serves the freshest airline food in the world.
Last week, Singapore Airlines launched a new “farm-to-plane” menu on board the flight. The airline has partnered with vertical farm company AeroFarms to grow its own lettuce and baby greens inside an old steel mill in an industrial neighborhood of Newark, just five miles from the airport. All of the hydroponically grown arugula, baby bok choy, and mixed salad greens get to the plane within 24 hours of harvesting, making it “literally the world’s freshest airline food,” says Antony McNeil, the airline’s director of food and beverage. “The only way to get fresher greens in-flight is to pick them from your own garden.”
Traditionally, baby leafy greens eaten throughout the U.S. are flown in from only two places all year round: Selinas, California, or Yuma, Arizona, according to Marc Oshima, the co-founder of AeroFarms. That’s about 3,000 miles away from Newark. This means the greens are a few days old at best.
The vertical garden in the Newark warehouse is not only efficient—producing the same amount of crops as 390 acres of traditional farming in a 40,000 square-foot space—but it’s also environmentally friendly. This growing method uses no pesticides and 95 percent less water than regular farming, not least because the greens do not need to be washed once they are harvested. Traditionally grown greens need to be washed (up to three times), typically with a chlorine solution, to remove soil and pesticides. This process “washes away essential oils, which means flavor, and nutrients,” McNeil says. The vertically farmed greens are not grown in soil. Instead, seeds are placed in meticulous rows in a reusable growing material made from recycled water bottles.
Another advantage to growing greens in a vertical farm? You can adjust the flavor during the growing process so it packs a punch—an especially important factor for food served at 30,000 feet, where your ability to taste is hindered by the altitude, cabin pressurization, and lack of humidity. “Under strict temperature and humidity controls, plant roots are misted with precise amounts of water and nutrients, and the formula and lighting can be adjusted to optimize the plant’s nutritional value and maximize flavor,” Singapore Airlines said in a statement. That means ultra-peppery arugula and deliciously bitter mustard greens.
The greens will be incorporated into three new dishes on the Newark to Changi route. The first, an heirloom tomato salad with cured ham, palm hearts, and the AeroFarms arugula, is currently being served on the flight. The other two—a salad featuring the AeroFarms mixed salad greens with asparagus, broccolini, avocado, and salmon, and a soy poached chicken with AeroFarms baby bok choy—will debut in November and December, respectively.
For now, the dishes with fresh greens are only available in business class on the Newark to Singapore route. But McNeil says he hopes to soon bring the greens to premium economy passengers on the route, too. If all goes well on the Newark route, the airline will expand the initiative to partner with other vertical and traditional farms in its major U.S. markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.