Airplane Food

Wouldn’t it be great if airlines could let you order your meals a couple days before departure so that they don’t run out of the meal you’d like by the time the cart gets to your seat?

I don’t mean kosher, vegetarian or vegan etc, though generally ordering those works pretty well and they usually turn up.

On my outbound flight to London last week they had run out of the beef and only had the gloopy gnocci left. This week the beef was gone again and I ended up with fish pie. I was in Premium Economy in the back row of not full flights but both times they were out of the beef. The fish pie was dried out as I’d expect.

Ok, rant over.

What’s your worst airline food experience? Have they improved in the last few years?

It very much depends on the airline. The food on Singapore and Sri Lankan airlines is quite good, Virgin Atlantic not so much. I always go for a curry or stew based dish on the basis that they’re always better the next day so being premade will be better than other types of dish on an airplane.

I look upon airline food as fuel, nothing more. It’s never been horrible and occasionally has been quite tasty.


Hi, Cath:

I’ve come to look at the term ‘airline food’ as an oxymoron. 10-yr-old MREs are better than what virtually all airlines “serve”.


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If you fly business/first class on a number of airlines (including American and BA), you can indeed order your food in advance.

In general airline food–when it is served, at least–has improved rather dramatically over my flying lifetime (mid-80s to today). And to be honest, when flying coach I’m generally happier bringing my own food on board. It’s always healthier and it’s always something I want to eat.

The best coach-class food served on board, in my experience, is on Turkish Airlines and Korean Airlines. Turkish Airlines has amazing food in business/first.


Hi Kaleo,

On domestic flights, if I feel like I’ll want something to eat, I’ll bring on my own. But on intl., I’ll generally opt for baked pasta of any sort or “beef tips.” I know on CH this was an occasional topic and I found it amusing/annoying that people had the expectations that they had. It’s precooked and reheated for hundreds of people. With lowered expectations it’s easy enough to get by. I will not however even taste the thing they call salad :slight_smile:

I almost always pre-order a vegetarian and kosher meal for this very reason, even though I require neither. Honestly, it’s also hard to really muck up a vegetable or a pasta to the point of no return, whereas I’ve had meat so poorly done, I barely touched any of it. Airline food is mediocre enough, but when you’re stuck with the least desirable option of mediocre, it can make a for a hungry flight. I always bring snacks anyway, but this has been a way for me to avoid something completely inedible (IMO) on long flights.

I heard a great interview on the BBC with Len Deighton (the multitalented thriller writer and cartoonist-cookbook writer) and he talked about how when he was a global airplane steward in the fifties if a passenger wanted something in particular (like champagne or particular food) at an airport stopover they’d radio ahead so it would be at the airport when they landed and they’d serve it onboard. Now that’s living.


One time we got bumped to business and they ran out of the filet mignon a row before they got to us. Boy was I pissed.

In cattle class, we’ve long given up on the food, especially for international flights. It’s always “chicken or pasta”, neither of which are ever anywhere near edible. Blech. We generally try to grab something at the airport, which tends to work out. Also not exactly culinary nirvana, but beats the crap on board.

Like others mentioned, you can order special meal like Indian vegetarian, Kosher/ Muslim to prevent surprises.

I’ve found in general Asian airlines’ coach-class food to be better than those from their U.S. counterparts, e.g. Cathay is better than United.

Yes I know and I have ordered various ones, kosher, vegetarian and Indian vegetarian. I like the Indian vegetarian but hate the desserts and appetizers they give you with those.

Appetizers? In coach? I’ve not had THAT experience. I find on international flights there’s actually too much food for dinner.

In some cases you can order a meal in advance. To what airline do you refer?

Don’t care about the food at all . I know where I’m going the food is going to be great . Being 6’8" and crammed into those seats I am miserable . Another cocktail please .


yes they have a salad thing, last week there was a shrimp salad and on the way out a tomato mozzarella app. This was Premium Economy to London from Miami. I think you tend to get more food on the long flights.

I’ve been commenting on airplane food for years: …and IME, Do & Co’s catering (they work with Turkish and Austrian, among others) is consistently the most edible. The Korean airlines have in-flight eats down pretty well too.

For most other carriers, I know that hitting up a supermarket beforehand is a priority.

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Random thoughts – both specific and general . . .

Domestic flights (U.S. carriers):

As with many of the previous posters, if I’m flying Economy/Coach – and the flight is long enough to warrant a full meal – I often bring along my own food (e.g.: something from home, if my wife and/or I are flying out of Oakland or SFO; something from a place like Cochon Butcher if we’re flying out of New Orleans; etc., etc., etc. Sometimes I will simply have a meal in the airport, depending upon the selection of sit-down restaurants (i.e.: not fast food) available.

Short flights, of course, are somewhat irrelevant. Bring snacks or get them on the plane, depending upon the airline.

On Business/First Class domestic flights, the best food hands down has been on Virgin America. (Their snacks/meals in Coach aren’t bad, either.) Now, are the meals akin to dining at Le Bernadin or Chez Panisse? No, of course not. But they are indeed tasty, the wines are good, and I haven’t once thought that I should have gotten something to go at the airport before taking off.

Trans-Atlantic Flights:

I’ve flown Economy/Coach on Air France as well as on TAP, and the food has ranged from “decent” to “better than expected.” The wines, particularly on TAP, were quite tasty, and the olive oil delightful.

When flying Business/First Class, apparently, I’ve had better experience flying Virgin Atlantic than Chris (@paprikaboy). Once, out of six flights, I had a mediocre meal – due to a tough and overcooked steak. The other five times, I was quite pleased with the food service, be it afternoon tea, dinner or breakfast. The wines are excellent, and I find myself actually looking forward to both the Lanson Champagne and the Graham’s Tawny Porto (served with the cheese course). Also, the bar is quite nice, and a great way to meet fellow passengers.

Intra-European Flights:

OK, let’s just get this out of the way: аэрофлот SUCKS! That said, the food and wine service on Air France, British Airways, Iberia, and TAP all are superior to most U.S. airlines, save Virgin America – which comes close or is equal to . . .


On a more generalized note, several airlines have now (at last) realized that food and wine taste differently at high altitude, as compared to sea level. (See Beyond Mile-High Grub: Can Airline Food be Tasty? in the New York Times.) For example, both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America have actually held wine tastings, and I presume food tastings as well, on board their planes to evaluate potential wines for service rather than basing their decisions sole by tasting in a ground-level office.

This means there IS hope . . .


Yup – the way we understand it, airline meals are a function of decisions between the airline service director and the airline’s catering company, working to carry out each flight’s budget from the chief financial officer’s staff and the marketing executive’s wish list. Gosh we miss the days when domestic first class dinner on a widebody aircraft was rack of lamb carved on the cart in the aisle !


When I went on honeymoon to Barbados from London in 1988 we were upgraded to first class.

After our lunch we were offered a brandy and I thought why not. Obviously I was expecting a brandy tumbler but the inexperienced flight attendant poured me a brandy in a tall glass. Full. Not kidding it was a 10oz glass full. I just couldn’t drink it.

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I try not to overthink about airline food. I get on a plane to get from one place to another. The airline meal is just there to help prevent people from starving.

I would like airline to improve the air quality though. It sucks.