Aboard Emirates Airlines, every passenger is pleasantly welcomed by the immaculately dressed hostesses. Smiling the whole time, these hostesses offer themselves to you, waiting to attend to your every whim throughout the journey.
Unknown to most passengers is the fact that these hostesses are only a fraction of the bevy of people that make it possible for you to make that trip aboard that aircraft, however short it may be.
For every single passenger that takes a seat in any airplane and successfully takes off from point A for Point B, a minimum of 150 people have worked behind the scenes to make your travel comfortable. For Emirates Airlines, part of this army is locked away in the four sections of Emirates Flight Catering kitchen in Dubai.
Employing at least 430 chefs at every one time, you could call it Emirates’ kitchen, by far the biggest and busiest kitchen I have ever visited.
“We have 135 clients including cargos, VIPs and flights. Emirates is just one of them,” says Jane Marie Zdrojewski, the project and performance manager in the operations department. “For Emirates Airlines alone, we employ 10,500 employees. We handle all of Emirates flight catering needs.
The only things a passenger uses aboard Emirates that we do not handle are pillows, headrests, blankets and napkins; those are outsourced to Denato. Everything else including food and utensils goes through this kitchen.”
Therefore, the food, utensils, children’s accessories such as toys, drinks, socks and shades, name it, are all supplied and catered for in this kitchen. “We are however not responsible for what a passenger gets on board. Emirates tells us what they need for their passengers and we supply it,” says Zdrojewski.
The bulk of these needs fall under meals and all the things that come with feeding people such as clean utensils and cutlery.
Emirates Flight Catering operates in four sections; the dishing room, the hot kitchen, the cold kitchen and the pastry kitchen.
The dishing room: Handling 3.5m pieces a day
I don’t exactly know how I ended up there but suddenly, we are being shown through a floor where machines are rolling with dishes in different states of washing.
The staff here is busy at different points, shining the cutlery, loading the reels with dirty dishes, pushing around carts of dirty dishes and so much more activity. We are at the dishing room, which is more like a floor of activity than a room.
This is where dishes are cleaned and packed ready for loading onto the aircraft. “We handle about 3.5m pieces of kitchen equipment every day,” offers Zdrojewski. These pieces include cups, plates, cutlery, napkins, toothpicks and many other items.
The caterers have the time between when an aircraft lands and when it takes off to strip it of all food and equipment used for the previous flight and reload it with the necessary amenities for the next flight, however short the period.
The turnaround period presents one of the kitchen’s biggest challenges, which Zdrojewski refers to as the logistics of supply and delivery.
Sometimes, a flight will be on time, which gives the caterers ample time to prepare the flight for the next group of passengers. But even when it has delayed, there is no room for error for the caterers; they still have to ably replenish the plane in time for the next flight.
“Also, until the last hour before takeoff, the passenger manifest is not certain and we always have to be ready to provide enough for every passenger, without fail,” she says. “We have to meet, strip, wash, repack, study the schedule and reload.
It is an ever moving target and we have to continue chasing them until at least one hour before flight.” The food is delivered into high loaders 25-40 minutes early to the aircraft, depending on where it is packed at the airport.