Flying the Kosher Skies

Kosher snacks — such as potato chips, pretzels, cookies — and in many cases, meals, are available on eight major United States airlines, and all the kosher-keeping traveler has to do to get them is to ask, the Orthodox Union Kosher Division announced today.

OU Kosher revealed that its survey of eight major United States airlines has made it clear that all eight offer kosher meals and/or snacks on board and that guided by the OU, most of them are eager to expand on their offerings. No longer do those who keep kosher have to be hungry at 35,000 feet – or in many cases have to bring kosher food with them on board.

The airlines are American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Northwest, Southwest, United and US Airways. Until prodded to investigate by the OU, some of the airlines were not even aware that they had kosher food on board as part of their snack offerings.

The study came about from an OU Kosher initiative, announced in September, to make it easier for the kosher traveler to eat on board given the fact that for economic reasons airlines have cut back on complimentary meals, which formerly gave the kosher passenger the opportunity to order food in advance.

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, Senior Rabbinic Coordinator and Vice President for Communications and Marketing of OU Kosher, wrote at that time to vice presidents for food services and other airline company officials: “Recently, many consumers, who are frequent airline travelers, approached us to see if we can find a way to make kosher certified meals and snacks available for purchase on those routes where this is the only option. We are well aware,” he added, “of the financial considerations that have made this policy so prevalent. But kosher consumers, who are equally willing to purchase food items, have been left with no option, as kosher meals and snacks are not available on your airline.”

“The OU seeks to share its expertise with you in order to assure that all passengers are truly able to equally enjoy meals or snacks on your airline,” Rabbi Safran wrote. In other words, he made clear, while serving as an advocate for kosher travelers, the OU at the same time wants to serve as an educator and facilitator for the airlines as they seek to meet the needs of their kosher passengers.

Clearly, the OU succeeded in that objective.

“Over the months of communication with the airlines, several which were initially hesitant and even responded somewhat negatively, or which had just one or two kosher offerings, came to appreciate the pivotal role the Orthodox Union can play in helping them understand the needs of the kosher traveler, and that certainly in the area of snacks no special arrangements need be made other than selecting from the thousands of renowned national snack brands that are OU certified and can be consumed and enjoyed by all travelers,” Rabbi Safran declared.

“It is clear,” Rabbi Safran said, “that airlines increasingly realize that the kosher market is a niche they should be concerned with, and that it goes beyond the Jewish community. The OU is pleased to help the airlines respond to the needs of this market.”

He advised the airlines to train their cabin crews to respond to questions from passengers about whether they carry kosher food, and even to have a list of kosher products on board to hand to travelers for their reference. He offered to have the OU conduct a seminar for all airlines to explain the basic needs of kosher traveler.

A survey of the airlines is as follows, based on their replies to Rabbi Safran:

American Airlines: According to Dennis Hammett, Manager, Menu Planning & Development: “We do offer our customers an appealing variety of four sweet and salty snacks on domestic flights that are two hours or longer. Of the snacks offered, the Chocolate Chunk cookie (which is OU-Dairy) and 3 Musketeers candy bar are kosher certified. Our Kosher meals are approved by the Orthodox Union (OU) and supported by our Special Meal program on breakfast, lunch, snack and breakfast snack flights in the following markets: First and Business Classes on transcontinental flights in the US.; all classes to Europe and Asia; all classes to Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile or Montevideo, Uruguay. Kosher meals are adapted during Passover.”

Rabbi Safran wrote back: “We appreciate your cooperation and look forward to enhancing the needs of the kosher traveler on American Airlines.”

Continental Airlines : Eric Kleiman, Director of Product Marketing, sent a box of snacks to Rabbi Safran, who informed him that “a great majority are indeed kosher approved. That is gratifying,” to which Mr.Kleiman responded, “We are pleased to cooperate and provide support.”

Regarding meals, Mr. Kleiman wrote: “We provide kosher meals in both our domestic first class and main cabin for our Trans-Continental flights and Latin flights. We also provide kosher meals for our BusinessFirst and main cabin for Transatlantic and Trans-Pacific flights.” Transcontinental, he explained refers to flights from Newark to West Coast destinations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Orange County and Portland.

“We spend a lot of time focusing on the Glatt kosher meals we offer to all of our customers on the routes where we offer special meals,” Mr. Kleiman wrote. The meals are provided by OU certified catering service.

Delta Airlines: Jake Frank, Director IFS On-Board Services, who described himself as “responsible for Delta’s global catering operations,” came to New York from Atlanta to visit Rabbi Safran. In a follow-up email to him, he declared, “We are launching Delta’s ‘Eats’ food for sale program on September 13 on our JFK transcon routes. The program will then be phased in across Delta’s network, and will be system-wide by April 2008 for all domestic flights above 750 miles. He added that he and a colleague “would be happy to meet with you to discuss Kosher options on our EATS menu.” Mr. Frank sent Rabbi Safran “a sample of each of our five non-perishable snack items on the EATS menu” for his review. Rabbi Safran was delighted to discover that all of them are kosher.

In a follow-up, Jaime Jewell, General Manager, Sponsorships and Brand Activation wrote, “Delta has always been committed to offering Kosher snacks and food choices, so we are happy that we can partner with you to communicate that more broadly.”

Consequently, in December Mr. Frank added that there are five OU certified snacks on EATS flights: Pringles, Animal Crackers, Clif Bar, Dove Bar, and Emerald Nuts Mix. He noted as well that on flights out of JFK, LaGuardia and Tel Aviv, kosher meals are prepared fresh, locally; on all other flights, kosher meals are prepared and frozen by Weiss Kosher, under OU supervision.

JetBlue Airways: Brett Muney, Manager Product Development, informed Rabbi Safran: “We are currently working with our concession Business Partner at JFK to offer kosher meals to Customers who wish to purchase something before their flight – to either eat in the terminal or bring with them on the plane. Most of our complimentary snacks offered in-flight are kosher. In addition, we offer kosher for Passover snacks during the holiday.”

Rabbi Safran thanked him for “your positive and prompt response.” He added, “It would be advantageous for all concerned that we be in touch as you plan on the kosher meals to be offered to customers. We do want to be sure that these meals will meet the kosher needs and standards of all kosher travelers. The OU is certainly equipped to give you the necessary information and contacts.”

Northwest Airlines: According to Dean Breest of media relations at the airline, “Passengers can pre-order kosher meals for ALL trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights. Kosher meals are supplied by the OU certified Borenstein Caterers. In addition, Northwest has several offerings that are kosher certified that can be found in our snack boxes on domestic flights. We look forward to continue working with OU.”

Mr. Breest forwarded to Rabbi Safran the snack boxes served on Northwest. The boxes include a raisin nut mix. Rabbi Safran replied, “Several of the offerings are kosher certified; the overwhelming majority are not. Many of the offerings from Pepperidge Farm, Nabisco as well as nut mix products are widely available as OU Kosher certified. We would be pleased to supply extensive lists of kosher approved snacks in all snack categories.” Mr. Breest requested the list. Rabbi Safran expressed confidence that once Northwest reviews the list, the number of kosher snacks on its flights will increase.

Southwest Airlines: In response to the OU’s inquiry, Frank Porter, Manager of Provisioning Services, determined that the airline offers kosher peanuts and pretzels on its flights, and in mid-March will begin offering Ritz cheese crackers, which also are OU Kosher certified. “Hopefully, this will help your audience know that there are kosher choices on Southwest,” he wrote. Please let us know if you need anything else.”

United Airlines: Mitchell Gross, who explained that he is “responsible for the selection of products we serve to our guests on our flights,” wrote to Rabbi Safran: “We appreciate your interest in United Airlines and thank you for your offer to assist us in identifying Kosher-certified products that could be suitable for inclusion in our ‘Buy on Board’ program. We currently offer four distinct collections on our flights and periodically review them for suitability and customer acceptance. We certainly will be mindful of the points you’ve raised as we continue to try to meet our customers’ expectations.”

United sent Rabbi Safran a box of snacks offered on board, to which he responded that some were kosher; Rabbi Safran also sent a list of OU approved snacks for United to consider. Mr. Gross added that, “Customers with reservations on flights offering complimentary meals can pre-order a kosher meal. We use OU certified products from KoshAir Cuisine by MilMar Foods of New York.”

Mr. Gross later added, “We plan to ask our vendors to submit kosher certified products for inclusion in our refreshed snackboxes later this year. As noted previously, we already have many kosher certified items in our current snackboxes.”

US Airways: Nick Ferguson, Senior Manager, Dining and Cabin Services, declared, “US Airways does try to accommodate passengers as much as possible when choosing menu options. On October 1, 2007 US Airways deployed a new snack box for sale on most flights with transit times of more than 3.5 hours between 0500 and 2000 local time. Within the In-Flight Café Snack Box we offer five items, four which are kosher (mint chip cookies, strawberry fruit bar, fruit and nut mix and garlic and rosemary all natural wisecrackers ).”

“Our previous box that has been flying for more than a year also offered a variety of kosher options and previous offerings can be provided for your consideration. All said, we look forward to any support the Orthodox Union can provide and hope our domestic offerings meet with positive results.”

Mr. Ferguson’s associate, Tim Donnally, sent a box to Rabbi Safran with the message, “Thank you so much for your interest and enthusiastic response to our new In-Flight Café program. We’re so pleased that it meets the needs of so many of your organization.”

Rabbi Safran wrote back: “Your very positive note attached with the box speaks well to your commitment, and that is much appreciated. The Orthodox Union will be sure to get the word out on your cooperation and positive feedback.”

The OU’s work is by no means done regarding kosher food on airlines, Rabbi Safran explained.

“We also encourage kosher travelers to share their specific experiences and feedback with us — both positive and negative — that we would then convey to the airlines. In developing our relationships with the airline companies over the past few months, we are eager to continue to advise them on the needs of their kosher passengers and how best to fulfill these needs.”

OU Kosher Staff