Top tips for in flight drinking

Be aware of your changing palate

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Ken Chase, American Airlines Wine Consultant

Fine wine in-flight is great, but it loses its appeal if you can’t experience its full quality. It’s a well known fact that your sense of smell, and therefore taste, is impaired at high altitude, making food and drink taste different. While there is still a lot of work to be done to understand why this is, the combination of a lack of humidity and low air pressure is one of the most accepted causes. As a plane climbs higher, the air pressure and humidity levels drop. At about 30,000 feet humidity is less than 12%, drier than most deserts.

This combination of low air pressure and humidity lowers our perception of saltiness and sweetness by around 30%, according to a 2010 study conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, commissioned by German airline Lufthansa. The study interestingly found that sour, bitter and spicy flavours remained unaffected.

Generally, wines taste thin, tannic and acidic in flight compared to drinking them on the ground. This affect has prompted airlines to generally select wines that are fruity with low acid and low tannin. Airlines spend a great deal of time curating wine lists, taking into account how wines will taste at high altitude. Ken Chase oversees this process for American Airlines, tasting dozens of wines mid-flight and selecting only the best for the airline’s menu to ensure they perform at high altitudes.

Taking all of this into account, it’s generally better to drink at the beginning of a flight, before when you palate still holds some of its original perception.

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