THE NEXT TIME you grumble about airline meals, pause for a moment to consider the effort that goes into serving them. Most obviously, they are usually cooked thousands of kilometres away from your table. This means they have to be chilled after cooking, then reheated in steamers aboard the aircraft - eliminating countless options from the menu. They also have to be priced to exceedingly tight margins, depending on your class of seat, and must meet exceptionally demanding standards of hygiene and security. 'It's a tough and challenging business, no doubt about that,' said Charles Grossrieder, the catering services manager at Cathay Pacific Airways, who heads a small team delivering 18 million airline meals a year. The logistics behind the operation are mind-boggling. Not only are menus structured according to what time you fly, with servings of breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or late supper, but in most cases they offer a choice. Meals also vary from economy to business and first class. They are specifically designed for the national demographics of up to 350 passengers on board, and tailored to tastes from Europe and China to Japan and Malaysia. 'We aim to satisfy at least 95 per cent [of passengers], so a lot of menus are route specific,' Mr Grossrieder said. Airlines are also obliged to cater for 'minority' diners - from vegetarians and vegans to Muslims, Hindus and Jews. Dishes served to Cathay Pacific customers are supplied by caterers in 41 kitchens around the world, all of which must undergo regular quality control checks and produce meals to a standard level. Adding to the complexity, Cathay Pacific changes its menus at least every three months - and monthly for flights from Hong Kong - with seasonal ingredients incorporated from around the world. Cathay Pacific's trademark is also to include a Chinese dish on all routes. Mr Grossrieder and his manager for planning and developing menus, Brendan Duffy, are both trained chefs who arrived in their extraordinarily challenging jobs via stints with catering suppliers Cathay Pacific Catering Services. 'With so many issues, from space, weight and timing to presentation, budget, security and health, it is difficult to produce the sort of dish you find in a restaurant,' Mr Duffy said. Mr Grossrieder said: 'We have an entire check list of things that can go wrong and over the years you develop a feeling for what will work, what is hygienic and what is absolutely non-negotiable. 'It's challenging but there's never a dull moment.'