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Airplane Food – Surprising Facts And Myths

Posted on Nov 2nd, 2022 by Renu Dahiya, Last updated Nov 3rd, 2022, Leave a Comment

The idea of hoarding airplane food seems stingy at best – and downright ludicrous at worst. Frequent travelers tend to have a love-hate relationship with plane food. While inflight meals often get a bad reputation, many airlines still distinguish themselves through their in-flight offerings. All the airlines work very hard to make sure their passengers are as comfortable as possible, and flight food is a big part of that. Decent food can be key to helping you survive a long flight, and airline catering has such importance to the overall business that a lot of thought and money goes into it.

Whether it’s a short-haul snack in the economy or a long-haul six-course gourmet meal in first class, food is a necessity when flying. You must be wondering – What’s the deal with airline food? Does it really taste that bad? Or, is it unhealthy for passengers’ health? Here, we have answered all your questions in our guide. So, the next time you fly, take a look at this handy guide to airplane food to know everything. This will certainly clear all your doubts and help you to enjoy your inflight meal to the fullest. 

Airplane Meals Vary Airline To Airlines

Yes, airlines are very precise about the requirements for their food. While most of them are handled by the same companies, their requests from said companies may differ. Not only does this mean they order different foods, but how those foods are presented can be unique too. Airlines also request that their fruit be cut in a certain way or weigh a certain amount while still fitting into their bowls. 

Why Does Food Taste Different On Planes?

If you think that the flight food served by airlines is bland or unappetizing, it’s not necessarily their fault. Basically, you leave your normal sense of taste behind at the airport departure gate. When your taste buds are way above the clouds, your normal taste sense goes right out of the plane’s window. Food and drink really do taste different in the air because our perception of saltiness and sweetness drops when inside a pressured cabin. 

What Food Is Served On Delayed Flights? 

There is a mythical airline food fact that airlines serve food cooked several hours before a flight. But the truth is that airlines unload the food from planes and refill the planes with fresh food in most cases of long-hour flight delays. Though it is a huge loss, the aviation industry has taken drastic measures to ensure travelers’ good health and safety. That’s why airlines provide special meals to their pilot and co-pilots so that they won’t get sick during flights. Of course, it is because of passengers’ safety.

In flight Food Is More Than 100 Years Old

Handley-Page served the very first inflight meals on their London to Parish route on October 11, 1919. It was very exotic – a packed lunch of sandwiches and some fruits. 

Airline Catering Is A Multibillion Dollar Industry

Airline catering is nearly an $18 billion global industry and a $7 billion industry in the United States alone, as per the reports. This industry is majorly dominated by three companies – Gate Gourmet, Flying Food Group, and LSG Sky Chefs (owned by Lufthansa airline and larger than the other two caterers combined). The first two companies together make up nearly half the U.S. market. While some airlines, like United Airlines, do some of their catering in-house, most inflight meals and snacks on major airlines are supplied by catering companies. 

Do Airlines Offer Special Meals?

Nowadays, almost everyone is conscious about the food we eat, be it for health, religious or personal reasons. Airlines do respect your reasons and offer special diets or meals as per your needs and preferences such as allergies, intolerances, medical issues, religious beliefs, children’s diets, etc. A passenger must order these special diets at least 48 hours before the flight. Always check with your airline for their offering for passengers with special dietary requirements. 

Airline Food Is Even More Expensive Than You Think

If you’ve traveled before via air, you must be noticed how expensive in flight and airport food and drink are. A report found out that airlines actually charge thousands of percent more than supermarkets. That’s not even considering the gourmet options available on more luxurious airlines. Find why airport food is so expensive here. 

Tricks To Make Your Airplane Food Taste Better

Here are some tricks to make your food more bearable aside from getting drunk when you’re flying in the air. 

Pick saucy stuff 

Chefs prepared the plane food first, then freeze the food so that it can be reheated once in the air. Because of the change in cabin pressure, food typically dries out once you hit a certain altitude because of the lack of humidity. So, when given options, choose the dish with more sauce in it because they tend to hold up better to the chilling and reheating process. 

Add pretzels or peanuts 

Experts also say that noise from the jet engine also dulls the feeling of crunchiness. But, you can fix this problem by crumbling some pretzels or peanuts on your meal for added texture. 

Opt for foods with ingredients high in Umami 

Experts say that it is quite easier to taste sour, bitter, and umami (or savory) as compared to sweet and salty when you are up in the air. So, be sure to watch for those items that are high in umami when you’re picking up your order next time. We’ve mentioned some popular foods that are high in umami –

  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Carrot
  • Soy Sauce
  • Parmesan Cheese

Select Meals with a lot of spice 

According to research done by experts, it’s found that the passenger’s ability to detect spicy flavors were relatively unaffected in the air. So, if you like spicy food, do not feel shy to ask for spicy food the next time you fly!

Go for BBQ items

BBQ is the most popular and the best choice of food when flying. This is because the meat items can be prepared in advance, stored, and reheated with minor degradation. Also, BBQ has spice and sour flavors in it, which helps with taste in high altitude. 

Put on earplugs and listen to music while eating

As per the research, the sound of the airplane’s jet engine actually makes it difficult to taste sweet and salty flavors. So, next time you eat on the flight, try putting on earplugs or listening to music to dull the background noise. It’ll help you to enjoy your flight food even more. 

Choose to fly on the right airline 

Nowadays, a number of airlines have made a push for giving better in flight meals to their passengers. Qatar Airways hired world-renowned chef Noby Matsuhisa to prepare their inflight menu and Delta Airlines hired restaurateur Danny Meyer to develop better airline meals. Check out the list of top airlines that actually serve amazing flight food. 

Top 5 Airlines With The Best In Flight Meal

Everyone on the internet likes to complain about how boring, even disgusting, airplane food is. But, let us tell you that there are some airlines that actually serve excellent flight food. It should come as no surprise that most of these airlines are in the top 5 lists of the world’s best airlines for student discounts, in-flight wifi, and best pet-friendly airlines. Now, let’s take a look at the list of famous airlines that offer above-standard inflight dining. 

1. Singapore Airlines 

Singapore Airlines has collaborated with world-acclaimed chefs who own Michelin-starred restaurants, like Suzzanne Goin of Los Angeles’Lucques, Singaporean culinary maestro Sam Leong, Carlo Cracco of the Michelin two-star restaurant f the same name in Milan, and Mathew Moran of one of Sydney’s finest restaurants. It guarantees the airline’s stellar culinary reputation. The airline is also famous for its ‘Book the Cook’ service. With the help of this, you can select your gourmet main course from a premium selection of Singapore Airlines special meals at least 24 hours before the departure of your flight. 

2. Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways has selected four celebrity chefs to create the airline’s unique and diverse Business and First Class meals menu – Tom Aikens, Nobu Matsuhisa, Vineet Bhatia, and Ramzi Choueiri. These chefs have spent months adapting and testing their specialty dishes for Qatar’s customers, taking into account not only the spices and flavors but how the taste buds are altered at the height of 30,000 feet. So, be ready to enjoy extraordinary cuisine and mouth-watering dishes when you fly with Qatar Airways. 

3. Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is one of the first airlines to have rice cookers, skillets, and toasters on board for the first-class cabin, enabling the flight attendants to prepare freshly steamed rice, toasted bread, and eggs cooked to the passenger’s liking. Professionally prepared and selected by Cathay’s food culinary team, the food in all classes is a celebration of China. And, the passengers of premium seats may see a menu of signature dishes from Hong Kong, such as wok-fired chicken with black beans, slow-cooked pork with preserved Hakka mustard greens, and Hong Kong-style curry prawns. 

4. Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines definitely knows how to impress its customers when it comes to airline food & gastronomy. You will be greeted by a chef in starched whites and a towering toque at the plane door as if he is welcoming you into a five-star restaurant. The ‘flying chef’ is in charge of all the food and cuisine, for business classes, served on long-haul flights. You will be provided with delicious starters like olive oil-poached artichoke and entrees such as grilled beef with creamy eggplant. And, even if you are flying domestically within Turkey, the airline still offers you a substantial snack and drink. 

5. Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines is known for offering extraordinary in flight meal services. To improve the inflight experience of passengers, the airline continuously adds more options to its menu. It has added vegetarian and vegan meals to its airplane food menu with several unique new dishes. Delta Airlines food services also offer 11 different special meals to their special customers which are available on all international flights. T avail of this special meal service, you need to provide advanced notice to the airline. You can do it on their official website or by calling their representatives directly. 

So, the next time you’re flying somewhere don’t forget to check out the in-flight menu before booking your ticket. You just might be surprised at what your favorite airline has to offer. 

Airplane Meals You Should Avoid

Besides the idea of eating something that may not exactly be award-winning cuisine, some experts warn that some meals served on airplanes can increase your risk of foodborne illness. So, you should opt for something else if you notice your flight attendant serving the below-mentioned meals – 

  • Ice – Even though ice is usually delivered instead of being made onboard using the bacteria-laden water from the plane’s tanks, experts warn that it can still be downright dirty because of how flight attendants handle it during service and how rarely ice bins get sanitized. 
  • Raw Fruit and Vegetables – Everyone prefers to eat healthy food while traveling. Unfortunately, experts warn the salad or diced fruits being served on your flight could potentially get you sick. It is always advisable to skip salads and opt for well-cooked food, especially on international long-haul flights like Atlanta to Hyderabad flights which will take around 19 hours to reach the destination. But, if you do want some fruits or veggies, ask for something with a peel that you can remove such as an orange or a banana, or something in a can or sealed container. 
  • Dairy Products – Almost every airline serves dairy products along with their in-flight meals, whether it’s yogurt at breakfast or a cheese appetizer with dinner. But, experts say that dairy products are particularly sensitive to issues during transportation and can quickly spoil. And, in the case of some products, it can also be impossible to tell when it’s turner to the point of dangerous to eat due to bacteria such as listeria. 
  • Meats – Whether you’re a vegetarian or non-vegetarian, you should consider going without meat during your flight. If the beef, chicken, and pork items are not cooked to the correct temperatures, it can cause food poisoning. But, it’s not just the hot meat dishes you should be wary of, Deli meats and cold cuts can also be dangerous for your health if not stored properly or become cross-contaminated during preparation or plating.

Airplane Food Is About To Get Better 

Traveling via air isn’t what it used to be. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been changes to the way we exist in the airport, there have been several masking-related outbursts on both domestic and international flights. And, there has been less to eat and drink mid-flight whether you’re on San Francisco to Bangalore flight or on a domestic flight within the USA. Pre-Covid, you could get as sloshed as you wanted (within reason) and enjoy a full inflight meal on the way to your destination. And, during the pandemic, rules were tightened to keep passengers as masked and orderly as possible. 

But, now (luckily), the airlines realized that in order to fully recover themselves, they would have to give the passengers what they want. And, in this case, that means spicing up food menus with some new delicious additions and bringing back inflight alcohol. So, don’t worry about your in flight food part. You’ll definitely have an amazing and delicious experience. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Airplane Food

Q: Can I ask for an extra airplane meal after I’ve finished my first one?

A: Yes. You may ask politely for additional food, be it a bag of pretzels or an ice cream, and the airline will always try to accommodate. 

Q: Do you get food on a 4 hour flight?

A: Yes, meals and snacks are available for purchase on flights longer than 3.5 hours or 1,550 miles. 

Q: Can you bring food through airport security?

A: Yes, you can bring some food items through airport security, including baby food, cheese, chocolate, coffee grounds, cooked meats, seafood, and vegetables. But, food in liquid or cream form such as peanut butter, ketchup, and maple syrup must be left behind if they exceed 3.4 ounces. 

Q: How are airplane meals prepared?

A: Airline meals are usually prepared on the ground in catering facilities close to the airport, and are then transported to the airplane and placed in refrigerators for flight attendants to reheat and serve on board. 

Q: What happens to all the unused food and snacks on your flight upon arrival?

A: The leftover food from a flight is considered contaminated and is therefore disposed of immediately upon arrival. It includes meals that passengers didn’t finish as well as entire carts full of food that were never used. These strict rules exist on all international flights arriving in the US and are enforced so that no foodborne illnesses can spread from country to country. 

Q: Why tomato juice tastes better on an airplane? 

A: Our sense of taste is actually dulled by airplane noise and cabin pressure. That’s why most airplane food tastes bland, and tomato juice actually tastes better. Tomato juice shows more acidity, has some minerals and is very refreshing. 

Q: Are inflight meals made fresh?

A: No. Airline food is prepared 10 hours before it is served in the cabin. The stag of ‘Made Fresh’ on the flight food is only a kind of trick on you. But, as per the reports, salads and sandwiches are served fresh during flights. 

Q: Can I bring frozen food on a plane?

A: Yes, frozen food is allowed in both your carry-on and checked luggage. But, if you’re using ice to keep your food cold, please make sure that it must b completely frozen at the time of security screening. 

Q: Which airlines don’t serve alcohol?

A: There are some airlines that operate a strict no-alcohol policy during flights and don’t serve any booze such as Kuwait Airways, Iran Air, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Rayani Air, and Royal Brunei Airlines. 

Q: Can I bring my own food on the plane?

A: Yes. You can take almost everything in your checked baggage, from liquid to solid food. But, you are not allowed to carry liquid or gel-like food products in your carry-on luggage. As per the air travel food restrictions, it is only allowed if all liquids are in packages of 3.4 oz or less and all these must fit in one clear quart-sized plastic bag. 

Are we missing something? Do let us know in the comment section below. We’ll definitely add it to our list. Also, share your stories if you ever had any memorable or bad experiences with airplane food.

If you found this post about airplane food facts helpful and informative, do check out our other travel blogs too for additional inspiration and travel tips to make the most of your flight journey and travel better!

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About Renu Dahiya | View Posts

Renu Dahiya is a passionate writer who worships her profession. Her love for writing has encouraged her to pursue her career as a writer. Her friends call her a “travel worm” and always come to her to know some interesting traveling tips and destinations. Renu is a repository of knowledge about traveling who knows which place should be visited in which season. Oh yes, she is insanely in love with dancing too. Writer, traveler and dancer, a perfect combination! Without a doubt, she is a complete package.

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