British Airways should be investigated by Food Standards Authority

British Airways should be investigated by Food Standards Authority


norman lebrecht

July 30, 2019

Two weeks ago, on a British Airways flight to Shanghai, I found a foreign body in a bowl of plain boiled rice.

It was a metal staple, sharp at both ends and dangerous. Had I swallowed it, the consequences would have been unpleasant, to say the least.

I called over the chief steward, who politely recorded my complaint and bagged the staple for examination. She offered me the rest of the menu, but I was not going to touch anything apart from the cheeseboard.

Two weeks later, I am still awaiting an explanation from BA.

Had the airline been a restaurant, an inspector would have visited by now, made a report and possibly shut the place down.

But BA is not subject to terrestial statndards, or any other. It is a bucket airline, flying by the seat of our pants and gtreating passengers worse and worse with each passing year.

I have written to the Food Standards Authority in the hope of improving safety in the air.

In the meantime, if you can – don’t fly BA. And if you do, don’t eat.



  • V.Lind says:

    I agree that BA should have been a hell of a lot quicker off the mark in contacting you with an apology and if possible, an explanation as well as possibly some compensation for a certain amount of danger and what must thereafter have been a very uncomfortable flight. And I agree that you are correct to write to the Food Standards Authority — I hope that authority extends to food provided to airlines, and that they pursue it diligently.

    But there is a certain amount of “these things can happen” to this story. It is unlikely that whatever accident befell your bowl of rice would have been consistent throughout the meals provided for a plane the size of one travelling so far, or you would probably have heard of it. While I can appreciate that you were shaken, it might have been a little bit of cutting off your nose to spite your face to refuse an alternative meal.

    You are lucky you got the offer. I flew to the Far East from Eastern Canada, westbound — an even longer journey than yours. (And on the vaunted Cathay Pacific). I have rarely been so hungry in my life. The journey was made even longer because of prevailing headwinds that necessitated a diversion to Narita to make up the fuel expended in fighting the winds — several hours’ diversion each way and a long time on the ground while they got pumping. I was asking for more food just outside Vancouver and was told that because of the size of the plane there was little room for extra portions I think they rustled up some crackers to supplement the TWO scheduled meals.

    BA’s delay may be in tracking down the source of the problem from their contractors. Meanwhile, your advice is not very practical, especially if the passenger is on a haul as long as yours, or longer. And I believe it is no longer permitted on most airlines to carry food-from-home, so you are stuck with the airlines’ offerings.

    Since when was BA a bucket airline?

    • Mike Schachter says:

      I have not had such a bad catering experience but the service on BA is dire and that on Lufthansa I recently discovered was worse. So called bucket airlines are generally better.

      • Heini says:

        My wife found a dead wasp in a Lufthansa sandwich, as an apology she was given a bag of the leftover miniatures (i.e. booze). Moral of the story, if you fly Lufthansa, always take a dead wasp with you.

    • john says:

      BA has been a bucket airline for approximately 5years and now deliver a RyanAir like experience for only about 10x the price. Don’t believe the hype? Just try them if you believe standards haven’t plummeted you are almost certain of disappointment at the uncompetitive service and customer hostile policies.

      • V.Lind says:

        That’s a pity. Back in the good old days, when I flew a lot on many major airlines – most very good — BA was still one of the best. I remember their coffee being exceptional, not something you could ever say of many airlines. Coffee and brandy after an acceptably tasty meal was a real treat on BA.

        I am dating myself — I remember customer service!

    • Nick2 says:

      I find this comment extraordinary! “But there is a certain amount of ‘these things can happen’ to this story.” In the ordinary course of flying, that is certainly true. But for any foreign object – especially one that might cause a passenger harm – to find its way into on-board food is not just reprehensible, it is a total disgrace. As NL points out, had it occurred in a restaurant, it would have resulted in inspections from the relevant Food Standards Authority. For BA to accept it as just another routine complaint – as seems obvious from its lack of prompt follow-up action is especially disgraceful.

      I was a BA Executive Gold card holder for a dozen years from 2000. I noticed a continuing drop in standards throughout that period to the point where the benefits of such membership were no longer worth putting up with them. If you are able to fly business class, there are many far better airlines around offering a far superior flight experience – often at lower prices.

      • V.Lind says:

        By “there things can happen” — indisputable because it did — all I meant was that one incident, which I acknowledge was potentially serious — out of the hundreds upon hundreds of meals served every year aboard is an unfortunate accident, not a pattern.

        I commended Mr. Lebrecht’s actions, save for his to me rather harsh and impractical condemnation of the airline’s food offerings as if this were a regular occurrence. It is appalling, and worth pursuing vigorously, and he deserves all I have proposed, but, in fairness, in its decades of flying it has hardly been the reputation of BA — or its contractors.

  • Paula King says:

    Kevin Majors (an apologist for BA) on the British Airways Complaint site on Facebook advised people to not post links to stories like this because the sites may not be secure. Could you check your site, prove it is safe and post that it is on this FB site.

  • The View from America says:

    “SlippedDisc: The inside track on classical music and related cultures.”

    … And this has to do with classical music — how?

    • sam says:

      Because BA’s official commercial song is the Flower Duet from Lakmé, because NL is a classical music critic, because…


      What bothered me the most about this episode is that BA served white rice and … a cheese board???

      Who eats white rice with chunks of cheese? Not the Chinese!

      Not even English cuisine can be that bad.

      • Nik says:

        They don’t serve white rice together with a cheese board, obviously.
        When you fly Club World or First you get several choices of starter, main course and dessert.
        Presumably the main course chosen by Norman came with white rice.
        The cheese board is typically one of the options for dessert. You can also choose a sweet option or a fruit platter.

  • Mark Pemberton says:

    They were clearly offering you a staple diet…

  • Rob says:

    I’ve never had a problem with BA economy.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    One of the best steaks I ever ate was served on a Qantas flight from Sydney to San Francisco (stopover in Honolulu).
    Perfect medium-rare, juicy, tender, nice crust – it tasted like it just came off the barbie.
    Just sayin’…. not all airlines serve bad (or minimal) food.

    • Sara E says:

      you’re right. most american airlines serve disgusting “food.” all in a sickening concerted effort for hustling/profit.

  • Tamino says:

    An explanation? A bit of a non sequitur, don‘t you think? An apology for sure, but an explanation?

    One can only hope BA has no explanation for a staple in a bowl of rice.
    Can happen, shouldn’t happen.

    Restaurants getting closed over a small piece of metal in a bowl of rice? Never heard of it.
    If it was that easy, the competition would sneak metal staples in their rice, call the authorities, and voila the competition is killed. Too easy. 😉

    BA by the way is subject to the same stingy customers, who do not want to pay realistic market prices for a good product. Ticket prices have in the last decades not followed average price inflation. They have no choice and you get what you pay for.

  • Sara says:

    we you flying business or first class?

  • Allen says:

    What next? Post too slow, window cleaner did a bad job, long queue at bank this morning?

  • Naomi says:

    BA always tries to theme at least one of its dishes to the cuisine of the flight’s destination – presumably someone in the catering department simply noted that rice was the staple diet of the Chinese. Anyway, the classical music world is surely aghast – who could possibly continue to care about cello seats, and the continued wholesale destruction of instruments in the aircraft’s hold when we know that, forthwith, we will have to pack a metal detector in our hand luggage for use at meal times.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It is not advisable to get flights from British Airways to European destinations few months in advance until Brexit issue is resolved. We do not know the consequences of a no deal Brexit. Otherwise, I have never encountered a perfect airline. BA is more or less as good as any.

    • George Porter says:

      Wrong way round – it is inadvisable to enter the UK until Brexit is resolved, unless you plan to return home before 31st October.

  • Greg says:

    I’ve flown British Air many times and their food is usually excellent. As with most airlines, their food is supplied by an outside vendor under contract. I know Do & Co supplies meals to British Air on some routes, but it could very well be another vendor who catered your particular route.

    I will continue to fly and enjoy the meals on British Air.

  • mathias broucek says:

    I took the daytime flight from JFK to Heathrow. It leaves around 9am east coast time and lands around 9pm UK time. Breakfast was fine but the second meal was a tiny snack and that was in business class…. I queried it and they said that “people want to eat when they get home”. Really? At 11pm?

  • Tamino says:

    With Brexit this will all be soon much much better. The glorious old days will return. They will serve afternoon tea for white people on white linen in economy even.
    Rule, Britannia, Britannia rule the skies…!!!!

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I wonder if you would like your billion dollar business slandered by hicks on the internet? One swallow does not make a Spring. You had been safely delivered to your destination at over 850kph and at 38,000ft. Stop whining and being a princess. Pay more and go with a premium airline next time.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    What? That’s your biggest concern? You’re lucky they fed you at all.