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Food and Odor on an Airplane - Etiquette

  • b

So with the food on planes going from bad to nonexistent, I've started bringing my meals along, usually something bought at the airport. I'm making a trip to NY in the near future, and had been contemplating a pastrami sandwich on the flight back. My question is how odorous can food be to bring on an airplane without being rude. Saltines would be a 1, Durian a 10, and Pastrami someting like a 5.

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  1. I bring banh mi on most flights, brought a container of dim sum home from Hong Kong...My feeling is, if you have to smell them microwaving that Chef Boyardee macaroni and whatever, NOTHING you cn bring is that bad...

    Link: http://www.bistrodraw.com

    1 Reply
    1. re: galleygirl

      This seems like another common sense issue. I hardly think you are "sinking" to the depths of anti-social behavior if you bring a sandwich on the plane. Others can remember to bing their own stuff next time. I bring pizza home with me occasionally and everyone ohhs and ahhs - of course I don't eat it on the way. Does anyone HATE the smell of pizza? I understand about overwhelming scents in small places, but the plane does have a ventilation system.

      However, I did bring some kim chee one time and that was a bit embarassing even though I wasn't eating that either. I wouldn't do that again.

      There is a big difference between pastrami and, say, stinky tofu.

    2. I try to keep it at a 3 or below. Think how you'd feel if someone next to you had something that smelled divine and you couldn't have any.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Fida
        janet of reno

        At least the divine food smells would be better than smelling the person (who uhhh......maybe ate too many beans.....) sitting next to me on my flight from hell Sunday!! But seriously, I would be conservative......

        1. re: janet of reno

          Good point. I once brought on a box of Taiwanese cold noodles (liang mien). It's a divine cold food: egg noodles, bean sprouts, shredded cucumbers and carrots, poached chicken chicken pieces, crushed peanuts, and spicy secret sauce (secret to me, at least).

          I forgot how much chopped garlic is in every Taiwanese dish. I got a "Oh my gosh, WHAT are you eating?"

          I was about to put the box away in horror when the woman who had made the exclamation explained herself. "No no, please keep eating! Someone should! I love garlic." Everyone looked at my noodles lustfully. Oops! Perhaps I was travelling with very polite Chowhounds.

          1. re: janet of reno

            I'm with those who say if you're debating, don't. There is very little to be gained by you-- as opposed to eating that sandwich in greater comfort before or after you fly-- and you could make the person next to you truly miserable.

            Besides, are you going to want to finish that sandwich once your neighbor starts barfing into a bag?

        2. We chatted with a flight attendant recently who said that odorous food on flights is becoming a big problem -- one that they can't really do anything about. You probably shouldn't jump and sing, "I have a pastrami sandwich and you don't" but I think you'd be fine at a smell level 5 or 6. If nothing else, it should provide education to the drooling people near you so that on their next flights they, too, will bring what they want.

          On the other hand, I always want to strangle the ladies who spritz on their perfume (it's never the subtle perfume wearers) in the middle of the flight. That's a smell that's never welcome to anyone but the wearer.

          We have a small plane and my husband has flown us to Costa Rica, Toronto, Cancun, etc. As a good co-pilot I bring the food. I use one of those little food carriers with the cold ice pack to bring pre-cut brie, prosciutto, tomato and basil for a killer sandwich, or I'll bring tequenos and empanadas of long leaves of romaine that I'll roll cheese inside. Coconut water is our favorite drink b/c it's very thirst quenching in small amounts -- small planes don't have bathrooms. I'm very spoiled by the food on these trips; for some reason the airport-bought bagel and brick hard cream cheese w/ onboard drink and peanuts just never measures up!

          1. Personally, I am deeply irritated by smelly foods on planes. It seems like nearly ever flight I am on lately someone has a smelly veggie sub or pizza. And at no point can I recall smelly food on an airplane making me hungry or jealous, rather in the stale air of the airplane it's just unappealing and overpowering (and that's at best). I bring only very low odor snacks with me on a plane, out of respect for the other people crammed into the tight space with me. Any cravings I may have for richer, heavier foods can certainly wait the few hours until I reach my destination. This is just my feelings on the issue.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Liz CT

              I pretty much feel the same way: as you say, perhaps it is the atmosphere, or perhaps it is just the ambiance, or maybe it is just bad luck, but I've never smelled anything delicious on a plane *ever* Besides, I have difficulty eating anything requiring utensils because I *always* seem to be behind the person who insists on reclining their seat the whole way. (And then there was the time that someone in front of hubby kept 'poufing' her long hair and stretching behind her hair, resulting in both hands and hair blocking hubby's mini-tv screen and even touching hubby's tray, more than once, even after he asked her to stop.) and Then there is the issue of everyone having way to much to carry on the plane...and then....

              I could go on and on....In other words, it is hard enough to be cramped in too little space for too long without making it harder...so I'd say be the neighbor you'd want them to be, show some pity on your fellow/sister travelers, and don't bring something above a three...I'd say bring that delicious four and above meal and eat it in a corder of the boarding area, before boarding. On a really long flight, I'd bring something non-obtrusive and easy to eat on the plane: for me, roast beef or grilled chicken sandwiches, with raisins, nuts, apple slices, come to mind....

              Bottom line: if you have to ask, it is because you aren't sure. and if you aren't sure, part of you wonders if you wouldn't want to be treated that way. Listen to that part of you. (just my opinion, of course).

            2. I don't eat on flights.

              I have enough stuff to worry about with my carry on (22 inch pullman and leather back pack with my handbag inside my backpack) that I don't have time to dick around with schlepping a meal on board.

              Even with cross country flights I can grab something to eat before hand.

              The most I'll have is a protein bar.

              1 Reply
              1. re: BlueHerons

                Agreed. I try not to go anywhere that doesn't have good food. On the way there I'm saving up stomach room, and on the way home I'm starting my calorie-deficit penance. Even business trips where the food might not be too hot, you still are likely to overeat when traveling, so I see that plane ride as an oasis from temptation.

                A power bar in the purse would stave off cannabalism in the event of some kind of 8-hours-on-the-tarmac nightmare.

              2. This is about courtesy in small quarters where the people can't move to another seat. If you're worried about the smell, don't bring it on board. Just because something smells good to you doesn't mean the person next to you is going to think so. It may just smell. Think of all those folks who bring bags of BK and McDs on board. They think they smell divine. Do you?

                2 Replies
                1. re: Ellen

                  Thank you, Ellen! The smell of fast food (and its empty containers) in close quarters is overbearing. I wish it wouldn't be pushed it as the only solution for kids on airlplanes, too.

                  1. re: Ellen

                    Yeah, but you can't predict what one person might not like the smell of and not eating, especially on a 5 or 6 hour flight is unreasonable for a lot of us. I'm not going to worry about getting sick from low blood sugar because I'm worried that someone, somewhere might not like the smell of what I'm eating.

                    What's next, not eating onions or garlic before you get on a bus because someone might not like the smell of it on you later on?

                    There's reasonable and there's reasonable. A pastrami sandwich is a perfectly reasonable thing to bring on a plane. Enjoy, and don't worry about it. No matter what you do, someone is always going to be unhappy, so just eat your sandwich and pass the time in bliss.

                  2. Well, the last flight I took the person next to me brought on a bag of fried fish and chips from Long John Silvers. Not only did it smell bad, he never got rid of the wrappings when the flight attendants came around with trash bags. I was not happy.

                    1. That reminds me of the time I bought a muffaletta sandwich at Central Grocery in N.O., stashed half of it in my hotel room minibar for the flight home, and then ate it in the airport lounge because I realized it would be WAY too strong to eat on the plane!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Chorus Girl
                        Laughing Goddess

                        Hmmph. And I thought it was a *requirement* to eat a Central Grocery muffaletta on the flight home from New Orleans.

                          1. re: Laughing Goddess

                            And I thought it was mandatory to eat it on the moonwalk looking out at the river.

                          2. Don't bring it. I love a good pastrami sandwich like my own child, but strong-smelling food makes me queasy on planes. I'm sure I'm not alone.

                            1. If a pastrami sandwich will make you happy and your airline allows it, go for it!

                              Air travel sucks and is full of rude travelers - people wear perfume or otherwise stink; the snotty little kid behind you kicks your seat and the parent does nothing; the other jerk behind you uses your headrest to pull himself upright; the pea-bladdered person by the window gets up 8+ times during the flight; the person in the middle seat hogs the armrests; and there's usually somebody who tries to be your new best friend.

                              Since having something nice to eat is one of the few things still within my control during travel, I sure as hell am not going to give up a treat just because some random person may or may not approve of my choice.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: Pssst

                                I agree with pssst... but get your pastrami sandwich in the place that made 'em NYC... since you are going anyway

                                1. re: Pssst

                                  This is exactly the kind of reasoning - "most people are being jerks most of the time, so I'll be one too" that makes air travel, driving, and other group activities so unpleasant sometimes.

                                  1. re: Sir Gawain
                                    torta basilica

                                    AMEN!! And I do believe if you are stuck in the middle seat, you deserve to have both armrests - it's the least you can do for that poor sod!

                                    1. re: Sir Gawain

                                      Double amen. It's not about someone approving (or not) your food. It's about not sinking down to the lowest level just because everyone around you seemed to have gone off the deep end.

                                      1. re: Sir Gawain

                                        "most people are being jerks most of the time, so I'll be one too" was not my reasoning.

                                        My reasoning was "air-travel is a miserable experience, so doing something to make it bearable is reasonable" and treating yourself to something tasty is one of those things.

                                        The item in question was a pastrami sandwich from NYC, for gods sake! Its only middling in odor range at most and by the time the OP gets to the airport and on the plane, it will be room temperature so very few people are going to smell it (I've never noticed the odor of food more than an aisle away and that was fried food)and of the people that do, the chance that someone will be genuinely offended (vs. mildly annoyed or enjoying it) is extremely slim.

                                        Bringing food on planes is common these days, particularly specialty foods (see the muffelata post).

                                        1. re: Pssst

                                          At the risk of getting dogpiled as a bad Chowhound (though I'd disagree), one can find other ways to enjoy oneself beyond eating. For the relatively short time you are on a plane, you can find other ways to relieve that tedium. I always bring along a book or some music to listen to. When I listen to my music I make sure it is not loud enough for the people crammed into the tiny spaces beside me to hear. That's the point about smelly food, as well. It's about simple common courtesy trumping something that is a complete luxury.

                                          If I must eat during a flight I will eat something like crackers, chips, powerbars/cereal bars. There are a lot of options that do not smell to high heaven. Insisting upon hauling in a veggie sub or a container of ropa vieja is just unecessary.

                                          1. re: Liz CT

                                            Eating Good Food while on a plane is fun, and is a treat . Theres something so luxurious about having something good to snack on while reading my book while the others are having a plastic cup of soda and 8 pretzels. You don't have to eat while on a plane, but thats part of the fun!

                                    2. I spent 13 years working for a large Unnamed Air Line, I spent more time in the air than many of you would ever want to. I'e worked in flight kitchens and galleys on planes, my brother is actually a on-board food service manager.

                                      That said, I never leave SFO without a stop at Darby Dan's or Innya Lake. On longer international flights, the cheese/crackers/pate/fruit snackes go in a crushable cooler with a couple of frozen water bottles.

                                      Do any of these range up into odorous territories? I hope so, the dry air and lower pressure deadens the taste buds, food needs to be more heavily seasoned to taste at all. I'm reasonably considerate, I plastic bag everything and dispose of the trash, offer to share etc.

                                      Having sat next to someone who removed her old nail polish and applied new on a crowded 3 hour flight, I don't feel bad if the garlic in my tea leaf salad smells for the 15-20 minutes it takes me to eat lunch.

                                      1. As long as you get your pastrami from Katz's, I'd say go for it and bring it one board. I wouldn't worry about the smell. Even if you pick up the sandwich on your way to the airport, it won't be warm by the time you are on your flight, so it wont smell as strong. Just remember to bring lots of napkins and maybe an extra 2 pieces of rye.

                                        1. The sandwhich is probably fine. But please don't bring strong deli pickles. They stink like BO after about 10 minutes. I was very surprised by how much my pickles stank on the last flight. I thought it was the guy next to me until I got my lunch and then I realized why HE had been looking at me.

                                          One thing to consider is bringing some citrus with you. It tastes good on a plane but also sweetens the air.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: JudiAU

                                            NOoooooooo. Please, no citrus. For some it "sweetens" but for others, the smell of an orange is really unpleasant. I don't know why, but go figure.

                                            I mean, eat the orange if you want, but please don't assume you're doing those around you a favor.

                                            1. re: Lizard

                                              You bring up a valid point, as far as I'm concerned. I don't know why it is that I love to eat oranges but cannot abide the odor of the peels. I peel my orange in the kitchen so I can quickly toss the skin away and eat the segments at my leisure, without the (to me) slightly sickening smell of the peel coming up to my nose from the plate. For airplane or car travel, I do the same and just put the segments into a throw-away container. It's much easier to eat that way, too - no sticky fingers to deal with.

                                              1. re: Lizard

                                                hmmmm. My handle is Lizard, too. Maybe one of us should change something so we can differentiate ourselves from one another......

                                            2. I would say eat the sandwich but don't linger over it for hours. Eat it and then quickly dispose of the wrapping. I don't see how it can be worse than any of the other things airline passengers are exposed to. I could write a book...

                                              1. i have to say that the smell of the airplane meals being heated up usually makes me queasy! otherwise, i guess i agree with others: if you have to think about it, don't do it. stick with the saltines! or some not-so-smelly cheese and crackers. or fruit!

                                                1. No need to eat on a flight unless you are going across the pond.

                                                  Eat before you get to the airport. Bring along a Harvert Bar, etc. and drink water.

                                                  Then you avoid that nasty full feeling. You can't exactly get up and walk off your lunch at 30K'.