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Etihad Airways buys hens, beehives to serve passengers organic food

Would North American airlines ever buy their own hens to serve organic food? (Thinkstock)Anyone who's ever paid $10 for a shrink-wrapped, cold, hard, luncheon meat sandwich on an airplane and lived to tell about it, might be pleased to learn that elsewhere on the planet, customer service experts heard their cries.

In an era when domestic air carriers require passengers to pay for checked luggage, to check-in at machines rather than at counters manned by humans, and to pay for snacks and hot meals, it can be heartening to learn that in other parts of the world, airline luxuries do still exist for the common folk.

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, announced on Thursday that it has purchased 200 hens and three beehives, which will produce fresh, organic eggs and honey for its passengers.

"Eggs produced by the hens will be used in Etihad Airways' Diamond First Class dishes, including the hugely popular 'eggs any style' breakfast option, prepared fresh by the Etihad onboard chefs," reads the company's press release.

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Etihad, which recently won Best First Class Onboard Catering award for 2011 through the Skytrax World Airline Awards, and does offer flights to and from Toronto, is also developing a line of organic, locally-grown signature pickles for its guests.

"Wow, what a service," says Julie Fontaine, a 20-year veteran of the travel industry and an agent with Village Travel in Hudson, Quebec. "It's really the service that's first, there. It's unusual in North America."

She says that domestically, the only travellers' perks she's aware of are the airport lounges in major centres where airlines offer drinks, snacks and showers. But even then, most lounges are for travellers in Business Class only.

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Canadian carriers tend to follow the lead of their American counterparts, says Fontaine. All carriers are cutting ticket prices, which means they're cutting back on other things, including and especially customer service.

As far as food goes, most North American carriers offer pre-packaged meals to passengers in Business and First cCass, but travellers in economy class must pay for their food, which usually comes in the form of a sandwich, says Fontaine.

If you happen to be curious about the what kind of food a First Class ticket gets you versus a seat in Economy on any airline, the website AirlineMeals.net gives a fascinating glimpse — and some interesting photos — into the culinary world of flying cuisine. It includes reviews and remarks from passengers on what they were served, covering every major air carrier, worldwide.

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