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plaine foodThis is not just another blog post about how bad airplane food can be. This time, I have a solution.

On a recent Iberia Airlines transatlantic red-eye, I was seated toward the tail. By the time the food cart arrived, they had run out of hot meals. Ten minutes later, something materialized: a seething tray of brown matter masquerading as shepherd’s pie. The potent cocktail of appearance, smell, taste and consistency conjured the primordial soup from whence we all, including the meal, originated. My neighbor wasn’t so lucky. Crew managed to locate something akin to a protein-packed M.R.E. in a Fancy Feast tin, complete with flip top. (It was technically chicken.) He opened it greedily, ignoring my joke about botulism. A woman behind us who suffered the same culinary fate sliced herself — twice — when trying to open her preheated cat food.

5 Foods to Avoid Before Flying

Recently, a colleague offered a simple but brilliant solution: ban hot food on planes. For her, the reheated stench that fills the cabin triggers a flight response. Even for long-hauls or red-eyes, I like the Southwest model: offer flyers a potpourri of individual snacks — Cheez-Its, Oreo crisps, pita chips. (Recycle the packaging.) And if a meal must be served, stick with the cold stuff like sandwiches, salads and packaged desserts. There are some fine products out there. Sahale nut mixes come to mind — and I don’t even mind paying for the privilege, as nearly all U.S. carriers make you shell out for food on domestic flights anyway.

I understand some long-haul economy fliers covet the hot meal — a few terrifically tacky Continental ads bragged about their commitment to it several years back (check it out below) — and experienced fliers know which airlines take dining more seriously than others. But the weak ratio of good to noxious is still an indisputable fact. Period. End of story, as Herman Cain’s beleaguered top advisor and I are prone to saying.



Back to Iberia. The “light dinner” on my return flight — a cold ham-and-cheese bocadillo — fit our prescription perfectly. There was no festering mass, no smell, and it kept hunger at bay until we landed at JFK.

Let’s talk airplane food: Sound off about our proposition or share your best and worst cabin meals in the comments.

– written by Dan Askin

14 Responses to “A Smart Solution to the Plane Food Problem”

  1. Chuck says:

    Right now, American has a cheeseburger for lunch in first class. Now, it’s not as good as a burger from In-‘N-Out or my favorite local burger joints, but it’s nicely seasoned and comes with very fresh tomatoes and lettuce.

    Years ago, American used to serve filet mignon on weekday dinner flights in first between O’Hare and the Northeast. It was actually very good, and it came with a tasty slice of chocolate cake.

    In the days of hot meals in coach, American used to have some good pasta entrees. Now, they weren’t as good as what you would find at a family-owned Italian restaurant. But they were better than what you would find at the Olive Garden.

    But, there was the time that I had been upgraded to first, flying American from Atlanta to O’Hare. The flight had been delayed due to weather in Chicago, so by the time the plane was in the air, people in first were hungry. The poor F/A was on her first trip back from maternity leave, and something had changed with the personal pizzas during her time off. So she burned a few of them. I wound up with a turkey sandwich. It was good, but I had been looking forward to the Pizzaria Uno pizza, which is good (although not as good as Lou Malnati’s).

  2. Suzon MacAulay says:

    If connecting through MIA, I try to pick freshly made sushi (right in front of the in-airport hotel) Terminal E. Excellent!!!!!!

  3. rob schron says:

    Ah, for the good old days when airline food on many routes was often a treat instead of a treatment. But, as with everything else from that era of flying,
    nothing is the same. I couldn’t agree more with the Independent Traveler in any case and fully endorse the idea of cold sandwiches and snacks as a replacement for the odor causing hot meals that not only stink but stink up the cabin as well. A simple ham and cheese sandwich anywhere at anytime always will serve the purpose.

  4. Tim says:

    I love the smell of food and coffee when I am flying. I have been flying since I was a baby back in 1953. The “old days of flying” were the best, prop planes then jets! My father worked for American Airlines for many years, then he went over to BOAC/BA and finally retired in the early 70s. Food was served on most flights, breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks. I always loved it and I do miss the “better days”. I still like the smell of food and coffee on flights today. Unfortunately, these days, for the most part, “airline flying” pretty much sucks. It’s a bitter sweet memory and a shame that more people today, can’t know how nice it really was…

  5. Chuck says:

    Years ago, in the days of regulation, my father routinely worked his schedule, so he could fly Delta for breakfast. Most flights, including departures out of O’Hare, had grits on the breakfast set-up, and Delta’s grits were supposed to be as good as the grits you would find in a southern diner.

  6. Peter H says:

    As a non-US resident I was somewhat appalled to learn that a flight I am making next month – 12 hours from Fort Lauderdale to Honolulu with one aircraft change halfway – effectively offers nothing in the way of food, save for a maybe a packet of crisps. Even three hour international flights from New Zealand to Australia provide (yes, provide – as part of the fare) properly served hot meals and complimentary alcohol. Are US domestic passengers being taken as suckers by the airlines?

  7. Sue says:

    Even if hot food smells and tastes appetizing, the whole concept of serving meals on a plane is a hassle. Even on long-haul flights from Seattle to Europe, we like to bring our own healthy(er) meals–sandwiches, wraps, crackers and cheese, cut veggies, fruit, cookies, brownies.

    At one time, an airline I flew (was it Continental?) offered in the price of the ticket a “sack lunch” that you grabbed from a little cart in the jetway as you got on the plane. It was cold food–similar to what I described above–and you could eat it whenever you liked in the course of your flight. I loved that idea and don’t understand why more airlines don’t do this instead of the hot meal served in-seat. I’m sure you could put together a quality meal of non-heated foods, and the “grab-and-go” concept means less overhead for the flight staff, not to mention those post-meal runs on the restrooms when everyone tries to go at once before the movie starts…

  8. Colin Laraway says:

    Here’s a tip – fly SINGAPORE AIRLINES whenever and wherever possible. I actually plan my vacations on their route map. Flying as it was meant to be. Excellent service, even in coach. Printed menu, choice of food, real metal cutlery, linen covers and beautiful cabin staff, what’s not to like?

  9. Lance says:

    As a lactose intolerance traveler, airplane foods are always a big decision for me. They always served everything with diary products (cheese for example)in them with every meal since long I could remembered, pasta, omelets, sandwiches. I had a choice eating in the airport for domestic flight but international flights are a different story. I once starved for more than 12 hours in Air France because all meals contained diary products. Why don’t they have a non-diary product choice in the menu? Most Asian carriers do serve non-dairy meals majority of the time.

  10. Susan says:

    Lance – I have the same problem and am amazed that everything has to have cheese, cream… I have solved it for me by bringing my own meals on board. I take frozen cooked shrimp, sliced filet, fruit, etc with the shrimp acting as ice pack and thawing on the drive to the airport/wait thru security.

  11. Calven says:

    About the dairy products, you can actually request for “non-dairy” product upon flight booking, or maybe can contact them after you’ve made the booking actually. There are lots of other options such as vegetarian, no-dairy, seafood only, Muslim meal, Kosher meal, kids meal or so, check with the airlines and basically most of the airlines would have those options. Well, these are for flights that served complimentary meals.

    Had one flight experience with AA between LAX and HNL, I can’t remember how long was that flight, but back in Asia, all the flights (except for budget airlines) do served meal for flight from 1.5hour (I can’t remember for an hour flight) and above, just like any other flight meal; the only difference for 1.5hour flight usually served snacks such as sandwich, wrap or so.

    Another awful flight experience with Delta, SIN-NRT-SEA. Guess what, I was basically starved throughout the whole journey. I am a girl and not really a “huge-eater”, and I was starved on the plane? The food portion is just not enough to me, I off for Japanese curry rice while stopover in NRT, but with flight delayed they gave us dining voucher therefore I went for another bowl of Japanese ramen; and, an Anthony’s full course meal at SEA airport.

    Flew once with ANA (All Nippon Airways, the second largest airlines in Japan), SIN-NRT-LAX, they served very good food and I was basically feeling full all the way, portion was great with very good food~ Sometimes it’s not a matter about the food or what, but just the satisfaction…. We paid “not-cheap” for the flights even I only fly with economy class; but how much is the food cost? Just served little better food and passengers satisfy & happy with it, is it very for the airlines? No way~

  12. Calven says:

    Oh ya, I’ve seen airlines offer special meal (on-request) such as gluten-free, low-cholesterol, healthy meal-less salt & less salt and others…. Check with your airlines if they had more options~ Cheers~

  13. NUI says:

    My experiences with airline catering are good and bad. For US or some in Europe, problem is the airlines do not own kitchen anymore. They are asking for cheapest to caterers. Problem is kitchens at the airports are the most expensive kitchen on the earth: salary of staffs, equipment, and rental costs (land).

    I had a chance to fly to Dubai recently. Food was great. But Emirates Airlines also own kitchen, which needs to serve the decent one to keep the image of company. Unlike AA or Delta, they do not own kitchen and they are looking for cheapest to keep them survive.

    Chill meal!!! I don’t think it is a good idea. Packaged food? It seems to be better because I believe in quality of PepsiCo, Nestle, or Mars more than chilled food from caterers (at least, those packaged foods have certain standard).

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