Let's Eat

Virgin are taking kosher to new heights

The flights company are investigating ways of offering in-flight kosher dining


A few weeks ago, Golders Green residents may have noticed 20 Virgin cabin crew browsing the shelves at Kosher Kingdom supermarket.

The team, in their signature red uniforms, were touring one of London’s most Jewish suburbs with kosher caterer, Arieh Wagner. His mission? To immerse them in our culture and teach them what makes us tick before launching Virgin Atlantic’s newest route — to Tel Aviv — this month.

Richard Branson’s airline doesn’t do things by halves and for this route, the first new one they’ve launched in several years, his team has taken into account its likely passenger makeup and colourful destination.

Wagner has experience training non-Jewish staff to serve observant Jewish customers at five star hotels, the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane and Kempinski Hotel St Moritz. “I was told that they wanted to understand their new clientele and get it right from day one instead of learning on the job” says the Swiss-born, Londoner.

Branson’s team, led by Chief Executive Shai Weiss (himself Israeli) could not train their entire cabin staff, who number more than 4,000. So they selected 40 to attend a workshop at the kosher Pillar Hotel in Hendon.

“The idea was that they would form the core crew and fly the route for the first three months and share their know-how” says Wagner.

Normally, all training happens at The Base, their Crawley HQ. However, for this lesson, the crew were summoned to North West London, where they underwent a crash course that ranged from tallit and tephillin to prayer times, sheitels and kashrut.

Next came the field trip. “This part was far more important” says Wagner. “It gave them an insight into religious Jewish life — details like the importance of a lady’s wig box and why we need to doven in the air.”

Many of the staff had not been delighted to trek from their homes (some overseas) but Darren Sherlock of Virgin Atlantic’s Customer Experience Team says they all left, full of enthusiasm. “Arieh seemed to know everyone in Golders Green” he laughs. “It brought home how close knit the Jewish community is.”

In addition to the crew’s cultural training, Wagner consulted on in-flight entertainment; food and beverage; on board service and the on-the-ground experience.

“I asked them to show me all their nosh and sweets. They have a ‘Wander Wall’ which allows passengers to help themselves.

They brought an actual trolley to the meeting, stuffed with snacks. About 95% of the food on the trolley wasn’t kosher — there were snacks like beef jerky and bacon sticks.”

He advised them what he though they needed to do, and they went away to restock.

“It wasn’t easy” admits Sherlock “but every single snack is now kosher.”

Wagner also advised that they should offer kosher wines.

“They are as good as non-kosher wines, so I suggested they serve kosher wines to those that wanted and could then use the rest for those non-kosher passengers.” He also explained that they would need mevushal wines, which can be poured by anyone (not just Orthodox Jews) and remain kosher.

When the best that competitor British Airways currently offers is a Hermolis kosher meal (pre-ordered only) and budget airline, easyJet, can only stump up a paltry kosher tuna bagel, Virgin’s competitors may need to up their game. Things are definitely going to get competitive on this route.

For foodie flyers who don’t keep kosher, the airline have scored another coup — signing up London, modern-Israeli restaurant, The Good Egg to provide food on board and in Virgin’s Heathrow Club House. Good Egg founder, Joel Braham, and his team were invited to suggest how they could bring their menus to the route.

“It was an amazing opportunity for us, but also a challenge, as there are a number of limitations and requirements we needed to follow” says Braham, explaining that bread needs to withstand being refrigerated on the tray with the starter, and hot food must be able to stand up to the vagaries of on-board ovens.

“In addition, turbulence can delay meal service, leaving food in ovens far longer than planned. His chefs worked with airline caterer Gate Gourmet to produce meals to Upper Class and Premium passengers that match The Good Egg’s regular fare.”

More hurdles came with the service style, as cabin crew are not chefs and service is time limited: “They can only to make a few additions or changes to a meal tray. In Upper Class, no more than four ‘moves’, which may include adding two pots of heated food to a china plate and a cold pots of pickles or sauce or just adding cutlery to the tray. We really had to think about what would work.”

Even fewer changes are permitted for a Premium Class meal. “That means no extra garnishes. Our fish chraimeh, for example, essentially a red, tomato sauce-coated baked fish dish was a challenge to present attractively from the oven, so we topped it with a piece of burnt lemon and some chilli, for colour.”

“No one has done this before, but it felt like a risk worth taking for us for the exposure linked with this premium route, and the chance to work with Virgin.” says Braham.

Virgin are also potentially shaking up in-flight kashrut. For now, kosher meals are to be provided by long-term airline kosher meal provider, Hermolis, but the airline are working with high-end kosher caterer, Food Story, to trial kosher meals on board some of their routes, but not yet Tel Aviv.

How all the meals fair in the air remains to be seen, but it has to be good news for your next trip to the Holy Land.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive