By Doug Gollan FORBES
While CARES Act support for the airlines and private jet operators has been well documented, the Treasury Department also provided payroll aid to cargo airlines, fuelers, and companies that support air travel such as ground handlers, and yes, airline caterers.
One of the often ridiculed elements of the airline experience (alongside TSA, rude gate agents and flight attendants, dirty planes and lost luggage), an analysis of publicly disclosed information shows at least six airline caterers received $486 million in taxpayer funded aid.
“The Payroll Support Program under Division A, Title IV, Subtitle B of the CARES Act provides payroll support to passenger air carriers, cargo air carriers, and certain contractors for the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits,” according to the Treasury Department’s website.
Irving, Texas-based Sky Chefs, Inc. gained the largest chunk of support at $214 million. Better known as LSG Sky Chefs, the company is part of the conglomerate that owns German airline Lufthansa.
Regardless of jokes about airplane food, and the seemingly endless cutbacks, as of 2018 the company had over $5 billion in annual revenues and was responsible for over 35,000 jobs.
Its ability to meet the requirements and budgets of different airlines is apparent from the 34 different airlines it lists, ranging from Emirates and Singapore Airlines to American Airlines and United.
Next on the list is Gate Gourmet, Inc. based near Dulles International Airport outside Washington D.C. It received $171 million.
Zurich, Switzerland-based Gategroup Holding, Gate Gourmet’s parent, reported sales of $5.4 billion in its most recent financial year. Prior to the pandemic, catering was apparently a profitable business. The company generated $482 million in earnings during 2019 at current exchange rates.
While Gate Gourmet doesn’t list its customers, it lists its executive chefs. Kevin Levett who is regional executive chef in the U.S. lists on his resume stints as premier sous chef at London’s 5-star Claridge’s Hotel as well as executive chef at the Sofitel in Philadelphia. Matt Farrell, who is dedicated to American Airlines in Chicago is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and cut his teeth as a line cook at The Inn at Little Washington.
Chicago-based Flying Food Air, Inc., doesn’t list any customers or chefs, however, it appears to offer catering services in more than 40 countries. Its most recent news release, from last September, announced it has won back the contract to cater flights for Swiss on the Los Angeles to Zurich route.
Do & Co New York Catering, Inc. is the U.S. division of its Austria-based parent. Known as a specialist in first and business class catering, it doesn’t just deliver food to a plane. For Turkish Airlines and Austrian Airlines, one of its flying chefs is aboard all long-haul flights to oversee preparation and help with special requests.
It lists U.S. locations in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. According to its annual report, as of February, it was awarded Qatar Airways’ catering contract for flights from JFK Airport. It also won the deal to handling catering for British Airways and Iberia for its U.S. locations. In its latest financial year, it lost $29 million on $1.1 billion in revenues.
New York-based Borenstein Caterers, Inc. provides Kosher meals for over 50 airlines, including American, Delta, United, Lufthansa, British Airways, Japan Air Lines, and El Al Israel Airlines. It received $2.7 million in CARES funds.
Carolina Catering Corp. of Carolina, Puerto Rico was awarded $1.7 million in payroll support.
While the objective of the CARES Act is to support jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps it’s nice to know when life returns to normal, we can also get back to joking about airline food.