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Airline meals

  • c

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the "special order" airline meals are far superior to those served to the general populace, thus rewarding those with sufficient foresight to order them. My question is this -- which special meal should I order? I have no special dietary requirements (though, like many who love food too much, I am trying to watch my weight). Should I order Kosher? Low calorie? Hindu? I'm flying domestic on American, and will be eating Breakfast and Dinner. I would welcome all suggestions/comments/rants/anecdotes.

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  1. s
    Simon Majumdar

    My only anecdote is on from the time I took a cheap flight to India on honeymoon in 1989.

    We flew with TWA ( whose motto should be "makes even the shortest journey seem like an eternity" )and we ordered the Hindu meal, not through any failure to enjoy cooked dead flesh but because on flights to India the vegetarian food is so much better. In some cases even edible. Most Air India flights for example assume you will not eat meat unless you specify you are "non veg" where on they look at you as if you a doomed to be reincarnated as Jason Perlow:) and sigh wearily passing you a plate of grey congealed something or other.

    When the first meal arrived. We were a little taken aback to see that the main ingredient seemed to have some relationship to chicken. When we questioned the delightful stewardess ( that's quite heavily laced with British irony by the way) we were told rather brusquely through a haze of cheap hair lacquer that they had given us the Kosher meal as it was " more or less the same thing"

    Ah beauty and brains, the TWA way....................

    1 Reply
    1. re: Simon Majumdar

      Ask for a fresh fruit plate and bring your own protein, if needed. Ovo-Lacto vegetarian also seems to be fairly inoffensive (basically, it's a fruit plate). I was served a completely raw chicken kiev in Delta's first class cabin once, and was so tired I didn't notice until it was in my mouth. British Airways once food poisoned my wife with a chicken dish. Their response was a clipped, snotty "sorry" so I've sworn off BA and all airline chicken. I've got to tell you, BA coach class (steerage I suppose, to the Brits) is a terrific way to have people you pay abuse you.

    2. I don't know if they still offer a cold seafood option but that's what I special-ordered several years ago on an American Airlines flight from the East to the West coast. I was served a good size shrimp cocktail - chilled boiled shrimps sitting atop lettuce leaves, a couple of slices of cucumber and a piece or two of tomato. With a glass of white wine I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was surprisingly fresh and light enough so that I was ready to eat again when we touched down in LA. If it's available that's what I'd recommend.

      1. Order the vegetarian or the fruit plate, and bring your own snacks as a back up. Recently flew American from LA to Paris, and had the "pleasure" of their in-flight food on the outbound flight. We were forewarned by a friendly flight attendant that the Paris to LA return flight had notoriously bad food (and it was, a choice of some literally stinking version of salmon or rubber chicken), so we hit a couple of take out places before leaving Paris, and ate like royalty on the way back.

        1. I was watching one of my beloved PBS food-porn shows, and the guy was doing food to bring on the airplane with you. One of the things he made was a lobster tail over baby greens with a vanilla vinagrette that you would add once you reached 20,000 feet. I was imagining someone bringing their own white linens, silver, flower in vase, lobster salad, and some chocolate truffles... ordering some bubbly from the air-waitress - and I can't tell you how hard I was laughing imaging the dirty stares from fellow passengers. Definately bring your own!!!

          1. c
            Caitlin McGrath

            Unfortunately, this truism no longer holds true. I used to usually do quite well with vegetarian meals on American--that was long ago--and then there was a period in the early 90s when their standard choices usually included a surprisingly edible vegetarian pasta option. Although I haven't flown AA myself lately, people seem to feel their food has sunk to the level of the others. I've had only inedible meals--even specially ordered ones--on recent flights no matter what the carrier.

            While the *idea* of the cold seafood plate is appealing, I wouldn't trust an airline re freshness of seafood/safety. I'm with Greg: the only solution is to request the fruit plate and brown bag it with something good from home. Elsewise, you'll end up hungry, disgusted, and disgruntled, I guarantee.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              I agree with this. When I first started ordering special meals in the late 80s, they were a great way to make sure I got something decent. Sometimes the food was even surprisingly tasty. But these days it all seems to be complete garbage. About six months ago, my husband got severe food poisoning from ranch dressing in a veggie meal. (Continental claimed that it couldn't have been their fault because no one else had complained. Duh. Only three people on the whole flight got special meals, and the third special meal was low sodium. Luckily I don't particularly like ranch dressing.)

              If you like rice, you might request an Asian meal or an Asian vegetarian meal. Even if the rest of the meal sucks, at least you'll have rice, which is hard to screw up (at least to the point of inedibility).

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                All the notes re bringing your own food reminded me of another story. On a Southwest Airlines flight (bless them for recognizing the limitations and serving cookies and peanuts) from San Francisco to Austin, we assembled a fantastic meal featuring various foodstuffs from around SF. We brought along plenty of extras, which we offered to the flight attendants. First class service in a narrow seat. Ingratiating myself to a harried flight attendant has also brought me first class meals and complimentary drinks to a miserable seat in economy on another carrier. Being civilized, patient and understanding to these terribly overworked people makes for a more pleasant trip all the way around. Except on British Airways, where on the same flight they poisoned my wife, they also tore my pants' leg with a bevvy cart and spilled coffee in my lap. "Sorry!" Ugh, deliver me from airline hell.

                1. re: Greg Spence

                  This reminds me of when I once flew to London on Thanksgiving, with three home-made pecan pies for the people I was visiting...I sacrificed one of them to the flight staff...and got a seat in business class. Too bad I had nothing to offer on the return...

              2. Bring your own fresh fruit, to hydrate a little.

                1. I'll tell you one specification to avoid: low fat meal. I assumed that would be, what, fresh fruit or yogurt or...? No, it was a bagel so rock hard I broke a plastic knife on it, with both faux butter AND cream cheese spread. Wracking my brain for my return "meal" for lunch but I seem to have (mercifully) blocked it out....

                  1. I generally fast on airplanes, and stick to liquids--juice, coffee, cola or lemon-lime soda to keep up my blood sugar. Then I celebrate my successful arrival wherever, by having a nice meal in a restaurant.

                    1. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that the "special order" airline meals are far superior to those served to the general populace"

                      IMO, this is incorrect. The first time I used www.travelocity.com to book a flight, I noticed that I had meal options. I chose "Muslim," thinking I might get some interesting couscous or something. What I got was some plain, tasteless boiled carrots and broccoli - no sauce, no nothing - which turned out to be the same thing they used for their vegetarian and kosher meals. I forget the name of the airline, but it was an American carrier on a New York-San Francisco nonstop, and this would have been within the last 5 years.

                      1. Wouldn't it be great fun to forward these responses to the various airlines?

                        1. I use long plane rides as an opportunity to eat food that I would not ordinarily. I carry on my food. There is nothing better then a turkey hoagie or liverwurst and onion sandwich that has been sitting in the over head compartment for two hours. I'm serious!
                          I let the flight attendent (very p.c.) know I will be passing on the meals, this way I can eat and sleep when I want without interuption.

                          1. Bring your own food and DRINK!

                            I haven't flown in years without bringing by own food and drink, and flying is a whole lot more fun now! There are lost of options, but here's what i usually do:

                            fruit: apples, bananas, etc.
                            sandwiches: some good bread with decent ham and cheese, fine mustard, etc.
                            Nuts, sunflower seeds or something like that.
                            Jug of semi-sweet iced tea

                            Almost as important as the food, bring something strong to drink. Once I was on the plane, readfy to head home when the flight was delayed by over 3 hours. I was so anxious to get home i could've gone nuts. The beautiful woman seated next to me kept me entertained with good conversation, but that only helped for the first hour or so. When I used the lavatory, I saw the attendant's cart of little airline liquor bottles, and quietly grabbed a handful of vodkas. When i returned to my seat, the attendants were bringing beverages to the pissed-off passengers. I ordered for the lady next to me as well as myself: "Two OJ's please." For the rest of our long wait, we were happy and laughing, and the takeoff seemed even more joyful than it would have been. I haven't travelled without liquor since, espoecially when i have stopovers.

                            Of course, this is a personal preference of mine, but a bottle of bourbon sure can make a delayed flight seem like a minor trouble. Helps you sleep if you like, or tolerate talkative neigbors. I usually mix up a water bottle of tea, lemon and bourbon to sip on as needed. When attendant comes by with food/drink, get several glasses of ice. Even if you don't touch the bottle, it can be a comfort knowing it is there. Besides, then you arrive at your destination with something to drink. Rum or vodka would be great, too.

                            1. a
                              Anil Khullar

                              This is an alltime favourite topics on many air-travel discussion boards. www.flyertalk.com where many FF hang out have plenty of war stories ;-
                              Anyway, on AA, in Coach you are gonna get Chicken or Beef ? Question asked so if you want a sure-shot way to get something better - Order ovo-lacto or Hindu-veg meal - Which probably is as bad as 6th St. buffet preparations. If you are an AAdvantage member, just sign-on and ask a specific question via email to the
                              help-desk/Customer Service.

                              SQ/SR were amongst the last to stop serving caviar in FC. These are the two airlines that are on A list of all FFs.

                              Finally check the Port Authority WebSite www.panynj.gov and See if there are some Food outlets at the AA terminal or if you are flying from the West Coast, check the info on the food courts in the Airport.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Anil Khullar
                                Caitlin McGrath

                                AA at least used to have a single (vegan) veg category, so they could do one-size-fits-all. Used to be decent bur has def. gone downhill. Don't order low-fat on AA; literally gets wou a weight watchers frozen meal in airline packaging. Still, in my experience, AA has been better than most other domestic carriers. I still say go for the fruit plate; special meals aren't necessarily better, but I usually go for one b/c I am seriously mystery-meat phobic.

                              2. I would skip a special breakfast unless you like bagels so cold you'll chip a tooth. I've had good luck with seafood dinners. A lot of times, you'll get a small, but edible, piece of salmon. Sometimes you get shrimp, which while overcooked, still taste o.k.

                                I really advise Calvin Trillin's old trick of going to Chinatown first and bringing on your own garlic chicken.