Fly the Branded Skies

Photos: Chelsea

These are photos of the end of an era. Continental is the last major U.S. carrier to serve meals in coach on domestic flights. Starting this fall, there will be none left. Continental will replace free meals with buy-on-board options, reflecting “today’s market and consumer preferences.”

Now, I’m not sure consumers would rather buy a $5 can of Pringles than get a free meal, but still, this decision seems a long time coming. (You can see what you’ll be missing at

Continental is also the last major U.S. carrier to operate its own flight kitchens. Chelsea Food Services is wholly owned by Continental. At the airline’s Newark hub, Chelsea prepares about 28,000 meals a day for 200 flights—half the total number of flights at Newark every day.

It’s a very impressive operation. The facility is 140,000 square feet and employs 1,050 people. It turns over $3 million in inventory every month—in fact, if all deliveries to the Chelsea flight kitchen stopped, it would run out of everything in six days. This is actually a very good thing; it’s a sign of efficiency. And the Chelsea facility has to be flexible, because the menu changes every two weeks.

These images come at a time when the future is somewhat uncertain. Some of the buy-on-board meals for economy class will be prepared at the Chelsea kitchen, but not all. That means the facility is set to shrink as it focuses more on business class meals. And of course, Continental and United are set to merge; what will that mean for the last airline-operated flight kitchen?