Rethinking Airplane Food

This fall, Continental joins every other major U.S. airline when it ends free economy-class meals on domestic flights. Like checked luggage and bulkhead seats, in-flight meals join the list of existing amenities that airlines are looking to spin into upgrades. The stuff of jokes probably since the dawn of aviation, few are mourning their passing.

Entrees On Trays

Prison food, hospital food, school cafeterias— has anything good ever been served on a divided tray? In fairness, serving meals at 40,00 feet poses unique challenges of logistics, space, cooking technology, and security. On top of all that, the altitude messes with the body’s sense of taste.

When ‘beef or chicken?’ is a trick question.

The recently published Titanic Awards, a celebration of dubious achievements in travel, identifies the 5 worst airline meals of all time. The current titleholder is Estonian Air’s Baltic herring (we think) with potato salad.

Airline food doesn’t have to suck.

It is a whole different scene at the front of the plane. A seat in the first-class cabin of Singapore Airlines can get you pan-seared scallops and grilled-to-order steak washed down with fine French wines (the airline happens to be the world’s second-best customer of Dom Perignon Champagne). While airlines typically spend about $5.00 for an economy class meal, the cost can soar to over $100 in first class.

Before you book your summer travel, take a look at these online resources to see what you can expect on your tray. Personally, I say the airlines can keep their meals. I’ll pack a sandwich. But how about a little extra legroom?

The Independent Traveler presents a survey of food service on major domestic carriers.

The Diet Detective rates the healthfulness of on-board meals and snacks.

Air Meals has a staggeringly complete photo gallery of airplane food. More than 18,000 photographs depict meals served on 552 airlines around the world. Other galleries on the site are devoted to vintage airline advertisements, crew meals, and in-flight dining scenes on film.


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