WHETHER good or bad, the in-flight meal is one of the main memories of any flight. These days, the great meals outweigh the ordinary on the world's airlines because they know that the way to a first-or business-class passenger's heart is through top-flight service and presentation. It may be fashionable for some in first class to wave away food in an off-hand way before settling in, but that seems a waste these days because airlines go to great lengths to produce five-star meals in the air. Every taste is catered for in services from British Airways' buffet in the first-class cabin, to Cathay Pacific's and several other carriers' offer to produce food at a time to suit individual passengers. South African Airways aims for a light menu, with a wide choice that includes noodles, rice, fish and many sauces to appeal to its Asian customers. Many airliners are restaurants in the sky, carrying a huge range of food, carefully prepared and checked to see if it retains flavour in pressurised cabins 10,000 metres in the air. Emirates takes this restaurant-in-the-sky theme all the way, employing guest chefs such as Bernard Gaume, who is the executive chef at the Hyatt Carlton Tower in London. Menus in all classes on Emirates offer dishes created exclusively by Mr Gaume. The policy seems to have paid off, since the airline was named Best Carrier to the Middle East for five successive years by Britain's monthly business magazine, Executive Travel. A glance at the Raffles Class lunch menu on Singapore International Airlines reveals everything from buckwheat crepes with creamed salmon to chilled malossol caviar, rice porridge with scallop and abal-one, and buttered linguini noodles. Keeping track of, and preparing, food on Qantas is a culinary juggling act. The airline is out to please from the most healthy appetite of a passenger who wants to enjoy every mouthful to the health enthusiast who just wants to pick and choose more sedately. Airlines place great emphasis on service and presentation. Cathay Pacific uses solid silver napkin rings. Qantas serves meals on Wedgwood plates. But no matter how pretty the plate and setting, what people most remember is the quality and variety of food.