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Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Your menu options, if you happen to find yourself in the first-class cabin of a Delta flight from Seattle to Boston this fall:

  • Skagit River Farms Polish kielbasa with Beecher’s cauliflower mash, or pan-roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes, Skagit River Farms bacon and Walla Walla caramelized onions in a kimchi butter sauce.

What's happening: Airlines are trying to win back premium customers with better in-flight meals featuring fresh, local fare, a J.D. Power travel analyst tells Axios.

  • Carriers are adding gourmet-sounding seasonal foods and craft beers to entice their customers to be happier — and to pay more.

Flashback: It started with gourmet vendors in airports.

  • "What we’ve seen is that people are more willing to pay a higher price for local food ... like crabcakes in Baltimore, or a moon pie in Kentucky," said Michael Taylor, leader of J.D. Power's travel practice.
  • At my home airport in Detroit, that means Plum Market with Zingerman's famous sandwiches (the crusty bread is amazing), or Grobbel's Gourmet Deli, known for its mouth-watering corned beef.
  • Airlines followed suit, experimenting with premium-cabin meals featuring distinctive flavors inspired by chefs at some of the country's most popular restaurants — a far cry from "the feather or the leather."
  • But then COVID-19 hit. Many airlines stopped serving meals altogether or switched to sealed plastic containers.

Now, they're trying to lure us back with coast-to-coast or trans-ocean menu offerings like:

  • Alaska Airlines: Guajillo chile-lime salad with ancient grains, roasted broccoli and sweet potato with a roasted lemon crema, and miso-marinated cod with sesame garlic farro, sauteed yu choy, bell peppers and shiitake mushrooms in a sesame-miso butter sauce.
  • JetBlue: Build-your-own meal (even in coach!) like roasted chicken thigh over a base of brown rice with herbs, or spiced eggplant over coconut cauliflower quinoa, with sides of mac and cheese and a mixed heirloom tomato salad sourced from Dig Acres in upstate New York.
  • United Airlines: Egg scramble with plant-based chorizo, or grilled chicken breast with orzo and lemon basil pesto — with a chocolate "Pie in the Sky" dessert specially created by Chicago-based Eli's Cheesecake.

Then wash it down with a local craft beer or curated regional wine.

The catch: Sourcing local ingredients for airlines that hop all over the country — or the world — can be tricky.

  • Some airlines aim to reduce the logistical challenge by requiring customers to pre-order their selections.

What to watch: COVID isn't going anywhere — and, with cases rising, the Federal Aviation Administration is likely to extend its mask requirement, currently scheduled to expire Sept. 13.

  • In-flight meals might be tastier, but eating them will remain a challenge.

Go deeper

Colorado's first Burmese restaurant highlights heritage, savory flavor

The sii cheh kao sweh at Urban Burma in Aurora. Photo courtesy of Pacharej Nuntanavooth/Siri Tan

Brothers and business partners, Siri Tan and Za Awg, spent their September suddenly popping up around town.

Driving the news: Colorado's first Burmese eatery has taken to the streets with the launch of its new trailer, from which hungry folks on the go can snag the spiced and savory Southeast Asian dishes.

North American airlines could see profits in 2022

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

2022 could bring a milestone for the airline sector: profit — at least in North America, new closely watched estimates show.

Why it matters: Globally, the industry will still lose billions of dollars. But its top lobbying group says further loosening of travel restrictions will help stanch the bleeding.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest.

Why it matters: The atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, was causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood, as it slowly moved south overnight. It's triggered widespread power outages, flooding and mudslides.