Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Oct 5, 2008 10:51 PM

Why do people feel like they need to eat on an airplane?

Most flights, aside from those grueling transatlantic flights from NYC to India, are short enough that a "meal" really isn't necessary.

Take a flight from from LA to NYC as an example. It's approx. 6 hours. Eat a meal beforehand and then eat when you land. You should be fine.

Will you really suffer from starvation if you don't eat anything for 6 hours? I mean, really, it's not like you're doing anything grueling for those 6 hours, right? Sitting there and fidgeting with those silly lap belts isn't exactly enough exercise to work up a real appetite, right?

Plus, do you really want to eat anything -- much less a "meal" -- in a germ infested place like an airplane cabinet? Who knows what the prior passenger did on those armrests, or how flatulence-inclined that person was?

Long way of saying, most flights aren't long enough to really justify the need for a full meal. Plus, most people could stand to skip a meal, or two, or three ...

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. well, for starters, eating is more fun than flying. Flying is boring, and eating can be (and should be!) fun!

    But regardless, your arithmetic is faulty. Given the amount of time it takes to get through security at many airports, not to mention the generally poor food at the airport, it isn't all that easy to eat just before boarding. and I don't know what airports you fly out of, but at SFO, it is not at all untypical to take 45 minutes from the time you land until you are at the gate, off the plane, have your luggage and are ready to go out the door. Since the closest good restaurants to the airport are perhaps 15 minutes away, that means it will be at least an hour after landing before you can eat (and that is assuming someone is waiting to pick you up and you don't have to take a shuttle or BART or whatever).

    So, let's assume 1.5 hours before the flight for security, boarding etc, and 1 hour after to get outta there, and your six hours is really more like eight and a half. or more. Personally, I don't wait that long between meals.

    as for the weight issue: skipping meals has been shown to make it more difficult to lose weight for those who could stand to do so, NOT less. Eating more (smaller) meals is actually a much better strategy, so in fact, it probably is unfounded to say that most people could stand to skip a meal or three...

    As for the germs, it seems to me that you are going to be exposed anyway: don't you drink even water on a plane? If you don't, you may be putting your health just as much at risk from dehydration (especially on a long flight) as from those germs....and you are going to touch those armrests regardless.

    Eating on a plane makes more sense than not eating, assuming you have good food to eat (which a Chowhound would bring with them, of course!)

    5 Replies
    1. re: susancinsf

      You took the words right out of my mouth or off my keyboard as the case may be. A 6 hour flight is 6 hours in the air but there is much more time involved. I'd say closer to 10 hours if you include travel to and from airport and security checks. Ten hours is a long time to go between meals.

      1. re: susancinsf

        And that's assuming that you have a direct flight to your destination. Add an hour or four in some armpit of an airline hub, followed by yet another flight to a smaller airport, and maybe a puddle-jumper after that, and you can be looking at 12 or 15 hours or even longer.

        1. re: alanbarnes

          ITA... and the poster above bemoaning the choice at SFO... should take a connection through St. Louis... or any other smaller airport... absolutely a food wasteland... unless you like stale doritos from a vending machine...


        2. re: susancinsf

          Not to mention that there are those who HAVE to eat in a six hour period. (Or even a four hour period..). Some folks are diabetic or have other health reasons for having to eat more often.

          And there are those ofus who get REALLY cranky when we don't eat for that period of time. In fact, I think there was a whole thread on this not too long ago...:-) Air travelers are cranky enough as it is (I know; I'm as guilty of this as the next gal...)...why make it worse by depriving us of our source of comfort??

          1. re: susancinsf

            I couldn't agree with you more. Plus, knowing that I have packed a little treat for myself helps get me through the nightmare that flying has become (I flew transatlantic just two days ago). I wouldn't want to find out what the baggage claim area of an airport full of people who haven't eaten in 6-8 hours would look like! ;)

          2. For me, there are a few reasons to eat on a plane. To help cope with the fear, I admit it! I also find it more helpful than, say, chewing gum to assist my messed-up ears deal with changes in pressure. My SO is a diabetic, so we tend to eat at pretty regular intervals and he needs access to food.

            But yeah, coping with fear and boredom, I'll admit those are my primary reasons.

            3 Replies
            1. re: dustchick

              ditto and double ditto....I allow myself treats on flights because it makes a very uncomfortable and fear-inducing experience, a little more fun. I don my headphones, watch some movies, eat potato chips and drink wine on flights.

              1. re: im_nomad

                Does it help with fear? I'm so petrified flying that I can't even watch the movies, let alone eat. Maybe next time I'll try to bring a treat and see if it helps, good suggestion.

                1. re: mjhals

                  well it just helps I guess with the whole experience, I make it a treat. Kind of like when you buy a kid ice cream after they get a needle :)

                  btw...the wine helps more than the potato chips ;)

            2. Why do people eat on an airplane?

              Probably because they're hungry.

              4 Replies
              1. re: scrapple

                Why do people eat in general?

                Because they want to.

                1. re: shdiep

                  why do people want to?

                  because it's not only delicious, but nutritious :O

                2. re: scrapple

                  The real question is why do people eat the gross food served on airplanes that they wouldn't touch on the ground.

                  Admittedly there is very little in the way of food served on planes these days. Most flights that are less than 4 hours only offer snacks and little of that. Often you have to purchase anything beyound crackers.

                3. While I wouldn't starve to death, I'd turn into a raging bitch without something to eat -- not a good thing when dealing with the rigors & uncertainties of today's travel and transfers -- and my travel companion might be inclined to ditch me.

                  Plus getting assistance with a transit problem is much more difficult if I have "an attitude" so I try to carry major snacks. As my sister once said, "If you know you get this way, why don't you at least carry some crackers?"

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Stephanie Wong

                    sounds like me, I just don't like to admit it! :-)

                  2. There is ample stress in scurrying to and from airports and dealing with security, baggage, customs, so that the time on the plane is when I like to chill. I bring a small carry on (4.5 liters) cooler, usually with shrimp and coctail sauce, curried chicken salad, a couple cheeses, and crusty bread. I don't bring stinky stuff that would annoy fellow passengers.
                    Arriving in Mexico City at the wretched airport on the skanky east side, hungry, is a nightmare I can slightly attenuate with some comfort food during the flight.

                    14 Replies
                    1. The seafood meals were heavenly- the 'snacks' were either 12 chilled shrimp with lemon and cocktail sauce or two scoops of a tuna salad ( made with celery, chopped pickle and just a light amount of mayo-no onions (or it would have been perfect)). The meals were made with lively sauces and sides different than everyone else got...

                      Back to the OP. If I have a plane which leaves at 6 a.m. from San Diego I am not wanting to eat a lot at 3:30 or 4 a.m. when I wake and have to start the drive to the airport. It isn't 6 hours without food. It is more than 8, which is not normal for most people.

                      1. re: Cathy

                        tuna on an airplane drives me crazy.....I like tuna, but dislike the smell when I'm not eating it......of course on my flight today the guy next to me was eating the biggest tuna sandwhich ever...yuck.

                        But today was also an example of why I always try and bring something on the airplane......I thought I had a two hour layover in Dallas with plenty of time to eat something. But then when I arrived at DFW I learned my next flight was significantly delayed...but there was an earlier flight leaving in 15 minutes from a nearby gate. So I somehow managed to make the earlier flight and actually get home earlier than expected...but no time to eat or even buy food. Fortunately there was a "snackpack" for sale onboard that was at least edible: cheese, crackers, nuts, and raisins. Now, let's talk about the timing thing: I was at a luncheon until 1:00pm Eastern time, and ate a reasonable lunch. I went straight from there to the airport, and wasn't really hungry yet. So I boarded my flight to Dallas, and then ran to catch that flight to Vegas. I landed in Vegas at 6:30 pm Pacific time....equivalent to 9:30 pm Eastern. So I essentially would have gone eight and a half hours without a meal if I hadn't had that snack pack.......Way too long, IMO.

                        1. re: janetofreno

                          As I recall (this was 2001) when I got the tuna snack, the people around me got sandwiches with add ons on the side. It was a cold protein meal for everyone.

                          Because it had ben refrigerated, I really don't think it had the smell that a room temp tuna sandwich taken on board today has.

                          But yes, I always have water snacks-even in my car (I have a styrofoam cooler in the back which I use for perishibles if it is a long drive home and I keep water bottles in it the rest of the time, along with bags of nuts and dried fruit.

                          If I were to be stuck in a horrid traffic jam for hours(it has happened) or because of an earthquake and am away from home, I will be comfortable.

                          For no good reason, I always have at least one pair of chopsticks in the car also.

                          1. re: Cathy

                            Good call, Cathy. I additionally keep soy packets and powdered wasabi in my car and in my carry-on. One never knows when one is lucky enough to be near an unlucky tuna's last day. It seems to happen with delightful frequency, once I get my lazy butt out of town.

                      2. re: Veggo

                        I'll take the clean Mexico City waiting lounges over the filthy facilities at Kennedy airport anyday. And the fast food there is pretty much on par with many US airports, unless you have the time to dine (where I think you can do better at many US airports).

                        But I do agree that dealing with the occasional craziness of immigration and security there (and in many airports) is much improved if it's following a satisfying repast.

                        1. re: Cachetes

                          Immigration and security is much, much easier in Mexico City than Miami.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            Agreed re. Miami. Oddly, the two times I had to do Chapel Hill, NC immigration/customs, it was even worse. I was too rushed to catch my flights to even get a chance to check out the food!

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              ITA... plus Mexico City has an actual Al Pastor Spit in the Domestic Lounge.. EXCELLENT....



                            2. re: Cachetes

                              I arrived in Mexico City on an overnight bus from Guadalajara, in order to fly on TACA to Honduras. I arrived at the airport about six hours before my flight, planning to just chill out... and finding that there is NO seating until you clear security! Unfortunately the TACA window didn't open until two hours before my flight, so my choices were: sit on the floor for four hours or sit in one of the crappy pre-security restaurants for four hours. No chairs! None! Whose bright idea was that?

                              1. re: Jetgirly

                                Juarez Int. airport in Mexico City has always creeped me out, maybe because I was there in 1979 a month after the DC10 crash and all the wreckage was still there. I can't get out of there quickly enough.
                                But Jetgirly, you discovered that the airports at either Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula in Honduras are not prize winners, either.
                                Food on a plane? I've said before I eat like a king on airplanes and I make no apologies.
                                If you really love pain, fly into Guatemala City at night with just a granola bar...

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  Yes, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula are like doing hard time - but so are Chiapas, Sao Paolo, Belen, Cali, Dushnabe, Chiclayo, Pucallpa, Managua, Bogota, Istanbul, Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, Cebu, General Santos, Hue, Leyte, Lahore, Bhutan, Rangoon, .... and so on and so forth.

                                  As to Guatemala City, the renovations are coming to completion and night flights let you get out and away faster .. to food and drink!

                                2. re: Jetgirly

                                  Go out and over the pedestrian bridge back to MEXICO and a block away to some taco stands in the shade. Get a few beers and tacos and enjoy.

                                    1. re: Jetgirly

                                      Right, so you get some tortillas, beans, onion, cheese, jalapenos, and the like, couple of beers, good to go...