Upcoming Exhibition | More than a Meal, Airline Meal Service Sets, 1960s–80s

United Air Lines advertisement  1960s paper, ink Collection of SFO Museum 2011.204.001

International Terminal

Departures Level 3, 4A
October 2022 - July 2023

More than a Meal
Airline Meal Service Sets, 1960s–80s

During the 1920s, as nascent airlines began to develop their passenger services, the nourishment and hydration needs of their customers became a major focus. Initially, box lunches of fried chicken and apples were handed out to passengers as they boarded the aircraft or distributed inflight by the co-pilot before the hiring of cabin crews. One of the first airliners designed with a galley for onboard food preparation was the Douglas DC-3, introduced in 1936. As air travel grew rapidly during the postwar era, most new airliners were designed with food service in mind. Airlines began developing distinct food and beverage programs, and meal services became a highly competitive aspect of their inflight offerings. Carriers often marketed these services with alluring promotions and developed sophisticated menus and elaborate courses, as they tried to distinguish themselves and entice passengers with their in-flight cuisine.

Providing a restaurant-style dining experience also required the special consideration of the design of the tablewares comprising the meal service set. Airline chinaware, flatware, and glassware were carefully conceived for presentation, utilization, storage, and durability. Often bearing an airline’s service mark, these tableware items also took on unique patterns often related to national origin, destination, or service promotions. This exhibition will present eight meal service sets from the 1960s to the 1980s, along with menus and images of inflight meal services.

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United Air Lines advertisement  1960s
paper, ink
Collection of SFO Museum
2011.204.001