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Airline Food

A Comprehensive Guide to the Best Food on Airlines

A Comprehensive Guide to the Best Food on Airlines

We’ve all been there. You’re an hour and a half into a 10-hour flight, and the first meal is making its way to your tray table. You wait in anticipation for something to tempt your taste buds – or at the very least, to ease the boredom of being in a locked tube. Instead, you’re given a pile of unrecognizable muck, accompanied by what can only be described as the world’s hardest dinner roll.

Business-class isn’t necessarily able to save you from your in-flight food woes, either. Some of the in-flight meals I’ve had in business class have been near inedible. Valiant attempts have been made to improve the experience. I remember a rumor that one airline ceremoniously tried to recreate the perfect poached egg (with runny yolk) for its business class passengers by injecting eggs with oil. While business class will, at least, offer you a wider range of eating options, it’s unfortunately never guaranteed that the food will be particularly edible.

Recently, I flew on several American airlines – something I hadn’t done for years. Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Air New Zealand at least attempt to make their culinary offerings sound delicious, and occasionally you are lucky enough to see a real menu card. Not on American Airlines or United Airlines, though. It’s the chicken or the fish. You don’t even get a discussion of what the meal might contain beyond the core ingredient.

Let’s be clear – there are certain limitations to preparing (and in rarer cases, cooking) food at 25,000 feet. The blandness of taste buds in-flight, a need for quick preparation (plus a long time sitting whilst heated before dining) and affordability all coming to mind. Luckily, some parts of the airline industry are making a concerted focus to bring a bit of flavor to your flight. The following nine airlines offer you the best opportunity to dine out in the sky:

Image Source: FlyerTalk/ISTFlyer

Turkish Airlines

If you’re unsure where to start when thinking about airline food, turn to the experts. Inflight Feed writer Nik Loukas has spent years reviewing the best and worst of airline food and rates Turkish Airlines at the top of his list – both economy and business class. We’ve all tried a drunken Turkish kebab at 3 AM. It turns out that, as well as making great short-order take-out food – Turkish food can be turned into delicious flight fare. Expect lots of Mediterranean flavors and rice and generous portion sizes.

Want to know exactly what kind of food they’ll serve on your next Turkish Airlines flight? Check out this Turkish Airlines Catering thread on FlyerTalk. You’ll find an up to date list of all of the meals they serve on board, along with photos of menus from recent flights. Feel free to browse or upload your own!

Image Source: FlyerTalk/Eclipsed830

EVA Air

Taiwan based EVA Air may be a surprise inclusion, though it’s less surprising if you’ve visited Taiwan – it’s known for some delicious delicacies. EVA Air offers a great experience to travelers in the economy cabin which – on some flights – even extends to patisserie offerings from the PAUL cafe chain. Its Hello Kitty plane offers a pretty interesting cat-themed bento box which by all accounts is very tasty, and the normal meal service boasts some delicious salads, a good variety of choice and lots of snacks.

Check out the EVA Air Royal Laurel Meals thread for photos of the lunch and dinner menus.

Image Source: FlyerTalk/Sealink

Emirates Airlines

It wouldn’t be an in-flight food list without one of the gold-standard Middle Eastern carriers featuring, and Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar are all known for their quality culinary offerings in the air. As well as featuring Middle Eastern specialties, Emirates is renowned for its variety of cuisine, (ironically) ample in-flight liquor supply and the care its staff executes in providing food service. Desserts are particularly well renowned, along with the inclusion of Arabic flatbreads which seems to fare surprisingly well in an airplane environment.

For a detailed look at the snacks, drinks and dining options offered in business class, check out the sample menus on the Emirates website.

Lobster Thermidor, ordered with Book the Cook. “This was the largest and best I’ve had.” Image Source: FlyerTalk/freed0m

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines seem to steal the show in so many aspects of in-flight service, so it’s no surprise to find them on our list of the top airlines for food. While their run of the mill economy class offering isn’t going to wow you, their business class ‘book the cook’ option – also offered to travelers in premium economy – is one of the highlights of the cabin. If you have unique dietary requirements, you’re also in luck – you can order every type of special meal imaginable, all of which are tested in a unique simulated cabin environment.

If you’d like to know more about the complete cabin dining experience on Singapore Air, including a fun menu for young passengers, a special menu for those with dietary restrictions, and a curated wine list by air sommeliers, visit their website here.

“Probably the best roast beef I have had in an airplane.” Source: FlyerTalk/behuman

Swiss International Airlines

If you fly often and crave variety, you’re in luck. Swiss International Airlines change their menu every three months, and it’s usually quite a drastic change. They have a particular focus on fresh vegetarian food and healthy eating and are known to be a solid all-rounder when it comes to food options for your flight. The meals are also often accompanied by two of our favorite things to come out of Switzerland – delicious milk chocolate, and slices of Swiss cheese.

Take a look at the new, all-encompassing Swiss Business & First Class Menu thread on the forums for photos of the menu and culinary experiences shared by FlyerTalker members.

Image Source: FlyerTalk/24left

Air New Zealand

Want to try something a little different? Air New Zealand has a reputation for providing some creative culinary options for its diners – including, last year, a meatless burger (much to the disgust of New Zealand farmers!). The food is fresh and fun, and the portion sizes are generous. On most flights, you can order – from your seat – baked New Zealand cookies, including their famous Cookie Time chocolate chip treats, and award-winning New Zealand wines and beer.

Check out this helpful Air New Zealand Business Class Meals thread for an inside look of the menu and photos of the curated food and drink. Share your Air New Zealand photos on the thread, too.

Austrian Airlines

The availability of fresh fruit, a distinct lack of overcooked eggplant, and a range of European beer and wine options puts Austrian Airlines into our good books. If you are looking for something a little more exotic, you can also order a special meal from around 15 euros, which – depending on your destination – might be a plate-sized Wiener schnitzel or a Japanese fish delicacy. Make sure you book in early, though – their DO & CO service only offers a selected amount of meals per flight.

Explore the menu items in a 360-degree view on Austrian’s website. You can choose from nine different menu options and adjust to your dietary needs.

Image Source: FlyerTalk/kaiotes

All Nippon Airways

Served with care, the food on All Nippon Airways is both filling and delicious, as well as providing a range of lighter options compared to many international carriers (although the Häagen-Dazs ice cream is a welcome addition!). On some flights, you’ll even get a small bottle of Yakult – a probiotic drink – which is great for settling upset tummies while flying. Like Austrian, if you want to treat yourself, you can order a special meal for 2,500 yen. And, if you’re flying to or from Hawaii on its A380 service, you might walk away with a free drinks voucher!

The J Class Menus and Meals thread includes photos of the menu offered in English and Japanese. Head over to the thread to add your own photos or check out the meals that will be offered!

Lufthansa

A potentially odd claim, but Lufthansa is said to provide both visually appealing and tasty foods. I guess it’s fair to say that airline food often lacks the former element. Offering a great mixture of European food elements and other cultures (don’t miss out on their Bavarian beer and bread), those little ham and cheese on pretzel bun sandwiches they serve on short-haul European flights are surprisingly tasty, too.

Browse through the Lufthansa In-Flight Catering for European Business Class for a close look at what to expect on the flight. The thread includes informative commentary from other frequent flyers and photos of the meals offered.

Tips to Make the Most of Your In-Flight Meal Experience

  • If you like being served early, or want to get to sleep as soon as possible, order a special meal. These are usually the first to be served
  • Make good use of that butter and salt. Your dinner roll is going to taste like a rock no matter how much butter you put on it – use that dairy to liven up your curry or scrambled eggs for much more of a tasty impact!
  • Curries are one of the meals that apparently fair the best in the air – probably because they are heavily spiced, which helps account for your lowered sensation of taste. Many airlines will offer an ‘Asian’ or ‘Indian’ option as a special meal, usually vegetarian, which might be worth a try.
  • If you’re flying on a low-cost carrier, particularly in Asia, take food with you. Airlines like Jetstar and Air Asia consistently rate poorly for in-flight food. A sandwich that you pick up at the airport (or even better, from a quality deli before you depart), or some conbini sushi, is going to be much better value for money!
  • You might not miss the food at all. Eat a decent meal before you get on the plane, and you’ll find you probably feel a whole lot better for skipping most (economy class) meals. Laden with salt and often high in calories, you’re better off avoiding temptation – and that means more room to fill up once you reach your destination!

[Featured Image: Shutterstock]

View Comments (10)

10 Comments

  1. sdsearch

    November 7, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    I’ve not yet flown any of the above-mentioned airlines, but I found the food on Qatar in business class so wonderful, that it surpassed the quality of most of the food I ate in restaurants in South Africa (my destination on that trip) until finally about a week after being on the ground I ate at a restaurant whose food wonderfulness matched Qatar in-flight. I’ve never before flown on an airline whose food I would even dare compare to on-ground restaurant food. (This was about two years ago.)

  2. pagophilus

    November 7, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    Who says Air Asia rates poor? Jetstar, Scoot maybe but in my opinion Air Asia has one of the best selections of inflight for, and it tastes good too. Having just flown several flights with them I suggest you look again at this airline.

  3. Dr.Ells

    November 7, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    How sad. Another anti-American carrier author. It’s impossible to believe that this author has flown United in business-first: I have flown over a million miles, often in F internationally, and there is ALWAYS a detailed-enough menu.
    The author can continue to hawk the inferior “other” carriers and fall ill, it would be karma.

  4. fotographer

    November 8, 2019 at 7:42 am

    remember all the food on the plane , the taste is down to the passengers liking.
    some find it decent.. some dont..

  5. FlyingScientist

    November 8, 2019 at 8:36 am

    Emirates picture is F, they did not convince in J…

  6. LillianJ

    LillianJ

    November 8, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    I got food poisoning from BA but have had some ok meals in Business class AC

  7. ChrisHaynesUSA

    November 9, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    tip to bring your own food is hogwash….
    you wanna smell auntie’s famous fish and turnip mush for the flight?

    last tip is spot on.
    eat a darn good meal at the airport or restaurant then fly.
    skip the inflight meal and arrive feeling better about your decision making

  8. dddc

    November 11, 2019 at 6:15 am

    Not had too much experience with American carriers domestically – usually short flights with just drinks and nuts given out, but transatlantic I did like AA’s pizza as a 2nd meal.

    Not sure Etihad deserves to be up there for Y travellers. They had a failed attempt to go to one plate main dish only on long haul flights and passengers were complaining they were going hungry. I flew shortly after they went back to a tray meal, but still it was a bit “meh”, especially compared to the meals I got on Cathay Pacific in Y. Really tasty and always 2 hot meals on long sectors not a pared down cold meal.

  9. Superjeff

    November 11, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    it seems to me that the author never flies on American careers international premium classes. The US carriers may have previously been worse than their international competition, but I think, at this time, they’re at least la good and frequently better.Economy class is Economy class – it sucks no matter what airline. And you can’t compare the meal service on a flight from Chicago to Phoenix with the meal service on a flight from Chicago to London. This author aught to do his/her homework.

  10. AJNEDC

    November 16, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    I don’t fly economy so I can’t comment on food in that class, I will say that I agree with you concerning your choices. Just must mention that your posting for Emirates was of its First class meal. It’s business class is OK but nothing remarkable. Now on the other hand, Qatar which you did not mention, is definitely worth a citation as offering one of the best meals in business class.

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