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Airplane Food: What's GOOD?

  • c

This topic came up on another thread and some Chowhounds named KLM and Alitalia as good airlines for the quality of food served. (I'm a KLM loyalist.) I recently flew Continental to and from Asia and found the food to be surprisingly good. Fish / meat / eggs were overcooked -- I sort of wonder if this isn't inevitable for airplane food -- but everything was actually seasoned very well. One of the appetizers, a daikon radish pastry, was legitimately excellent and we were served dragonfruit, asian pear and other fruit for dessert, along with a cheese service... followed by another dessert of Edy's ice cream with toppings and port for those who wanted it.

We hear so much about awful (or just plain non-existent) airplane food, these days. But which ones out there are good?

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  1. The best airplane meal I ever had was on a Northwest red eye from SEA-TAC to Atlanta. I boarded fully expecting to drink some water sleep the rest of the flight, but after the drink cart rolled through the flight attendants started passing out (free!) snack boxes. It was a simple meal, a few crackers, some cheese, raisins and a cookie, but it was just right. I wish airlines would give up on trying to transport, prep, and serve hot meals, fruit/cheese/bread is so easy!

    My other most memorable airplane food was on a flight to London on British Air (from Newark, I think). The meal was unremarkable, but dessert was a Cadbury Crunchie bar!

    The first time I ever flew was from Dulles to Beijing (via Denver, San Francisco, and Tokyo). I was 8 and don't remember the food at all, but the hot towels distributed before the meal made quite an impression. I'm sure the food was very good by airplane standards, but completely lost on me at the time.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mpjmph

      make it good cheese and good, fresh fruit and i'm right there with you, mpjmph! i also love the hot towels, tho neurotic l'il me is still trying to figure out whether to use them before or after the purel. :) good memories.

      1. re: mpjmph

        I agree with you about simplicity. The best airline meal I can remember was a corned beef sandwich and a piece of fruit on that giant of the airline industry Texas International Airlines. The most impressive was on an Olympic flight from JFK to Athens. I can only remember that it started with smoked fish and a lot of wine. The most unusual was on an Alitalia flight from Athens to Rome. Either Greek or Italian cold cuts. At least I thought they were cold cuts.

        1. re: mpjmph

          I agree! On an Air Emirates flight recently they gave us a veggie wrap(fresh spinach and feta) with a piece of fruit for a snack. It was perfect!

        2. JetBlue. Love the dorito mix and the chocolate chip cookies are really good.

          Just as long as they have Cran-apple juice, jfood can handle it.

          3 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            I love that when they ask which snack you want, if you hesitate (as I always do when confronted with making a decision as important as Snack) they are quick to say, "or you can have both..." LOVE JetBlue. I wish other airlines would figure out that there are simple, inexpensive ways to make your customers so much happier. In Toronto, we have a small airline that flies out of the small city centre airport called Porter (mostly eastern Canadian destinations, but they also go to NYC and Chicago now), and since they pretty much have that airport to themselves, the terminal has a lounge with free snacks/sodas/coffee that all passengers get to help themselves to with actual plates and coffee cups. And on my flight, my Diet Coke came in an honest-to-goodness GLASS. I don't expect a meal on such short flights, but it's so refreshing to be treated like a grown-up - usually when I'm flying I always feel a little bit like I'm back in kindergarten waiting for my cup of juice and that little, carefully rationed plastic tray of Snack.

            1. re: Wahooty

              jetblue says unlimited snacks. they mean it. free soda means less dehydration.

            2. re: jfood

              the chocolate chip shortbready things were awful, ymmv.

            3. Across the Atlantic: Lufthansa and KLM, followed by British and American, Air France is the worst - even in business.

              Across the Pacific: Singapore, Thai, Cathay Pacific, Korean, United (All of these Pacific flights have good food in business and economy. The Asian lines' food and drink in business are REALLY good)

              Europe - South Asia: Emirates (Maybe the best business class treatment and food)

              Europe - Africa: Kenian Air / Air Kenya (?) (Great people, good food and drink)

              Within Latin America: Copa (Even good food/snacks in economy). Avianca (Colombia) and Varig (Brasil) are very uneven in terms of food. National lines like Lloyd, Lan Chile, TAM, and many others are realy hit and miss, mostly miss).

              Central Asian republics: Turkish (Great Turkish food and wine!).

              Back and forth Cali - Miami - DC and back on American in business has been nice; although the Admiral's Lounges are wastelands.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                I agree completely with Singapore, Thai, & Cathay Pacific. In that order, too! Well-cooked, flavorful food, and gorgeous to boot.

                I'd nominate China Airlines for worst breakfasts. Saddest congee ever.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Turkish airlines serves pretty decent food, especially if the flight is out of Turkey. The meal services on this side of the ocean don't do it as well). They even used to serve meals during 30 something minute flights between Istanbul and Ankara and we are talking coach class here. It was perhaps a waste if you come to think about it (who needs to eat every 30 minutes), but they had the best packaged salad I've tasted (including fancy deli chains): Fresh lettuce, grape tomatoes, red onions, olives, a little feta and a dressing made with real olive oil and lemon juice. Simple but perfect. Of course air travel in Turkey is very very expensive (I was simply connecting from USA, I wouldn't pay for a flight that short) so the customers had high expectations about the service during the flight.

                  1. re: emerilcantcook

                    Even the Turkish wine served with the excellent meal in cattle class was good on an Istanbul - Dushanbe, Tajikistan, flight.

                    Expensive! I had to laugh when I passed by a Burger King in the airport and a Whopper was $14.00!

                    1. re: emerilcantcook

                      I was served breakfast on Air India for an hour long flight.

                      1. re: Fromageball

                        They used to do this on Air Canada. Back when.

                  2. Taiwanese carrier Eva Airlines sells Din Tai Fung's xiao long bao in business class.

                    (or at least they used to... now it looks like beef noodle soup)


                    Mr Taster

                    1. For international airlines I've flown Lufthansa, British Airways, Virgin, Asiana, JAL, Continental and Northwest. Best meal and service was JAL and Asiana - both offered Asian or "Western" menus - I opted for the Asian and the food was seasoned well, veggies were fresh, colours were bright and nothing was too salty, wilted and definitely none of that grey mystery meat. The "ramen on tap" offered by Asiana is something my brother loves. I liked Virgin at the beginning when they first started flying from the UK to the US - they did great ice creams/desserts and decent food but now that's all gone a bit downhill.

                      I actually found the food and service with Lufthansa when flying between Europe and Asia a few years back to be one of my worst experiences. Same with Northwest. Haven't flown with either of them since. One of my friends flew on Air AFrance to come to my wedding and got food poisoning! Luckily, he had arrived 4 days beforehand and sufficiently recovered to attend.

                      1. Virgin first class.
                        I would happily live there.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: alwayscooking

                          Even Virgin coach isn't too bad. I think we ordered a couple of wraps or sandwiches on our last Virgin domestic flight, and they were surprisingly good.

                        2. Hmm. Does this question apply to those unfortunate people who generally fly cattle class? I'd say Olympic Airways had really nice Greek stuff when I used to fly to Greece in the 70s and 80s.

                          Best food, hands down, tho -- Singapore Airlines. Cattle class, that is. Once got upgraded to American Airlines business class, and certainly enjoyed real silverware, napkins (!), a tiny bottle with olive oil & balsamic for the salad, and a filet mignon.

                          Now I hate people who fly business & first class even more '-D

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: linguafood

                            Good cattle class: Copa in the Americas; Turkish in Central Asia; Singapore, Thai, KAL across the Pacific; Lufthansa, KLM, and British across the Atlantic.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              I frankly nowadays avoid eating on the plane. "Pasta or chicken?" Thanks, but no thanks. I'm better off grabbing 'bourbon chicken' or a burger at the airport. Tho I heard that preordering a vegetarian or kosher meal gets you something slightly more edible.

                              True, or urban myth?

                              1. re: linguafood

                                True on some airlines but not so with others and certain routes. I request Asian veg and normally get a decent Indian meal but it's certainly not fool-proof. After years and years of constant flying, the lesson I've learned is: Bring my own food.

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  The best food in Central and South Asia is halal - by far!!

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    In my experience true until about 5 years ago. Now, on the airline I've flown, all is equally unappetizing. Recently, I ordered a vegetarian meal in business class and got the same sandwich as everyone else but without the turkey - just lettuce and tomato without mayo or mustard (mustard isn't vegan?). I pack or bring my own meals now - and partake of the 'free' liqueur instead.

                                    1. re: alwayscooking

                                      For me, true until the early- to mid-90s (depending on airline). Air France had NO idea what to do (unseasoned rice, potatoes, and steamed vegetables). In the mid-90s, American actually had some surprisingly tasty veg pastas that were part of the regular meal service. Like you, I started bringing my own food long before food service stopped.

                                    2. re: linguafood

                                      I ordered a special meal once, having heard the same thing: A "Hindu" meal on Air Canada from Toronto in...I think it must have been business class. I had visions of sambar, chana masala, palak paneer, etc. The reality was disappointing: Basically a normal meal with the meat removed and a bunch of mushrooms thrown in to replace it. Not recommended!

                                  2. re: linguafood

                                    In reply to linguafood several posts above: Sorry to report, Olympic cattle class last New Year's week: food was dreadful. Nothing remotely Greek about it, could have been served on United Airlines in the mid-70s.

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      I was in Lufthansa economy class and was served real silverware, beer, wine, baileys/cognac, pretty decent food etc. No little bottle for balsamic and olive oil :( Ditto for Air Emirates.

                                    2. International: British Airways and Singapore Airlines (tie)

                                      Domestic (U.S.): None, all are equally unremarkable.

                                      1. Of course, quality food depends if you are in economy, business or first class, and to add to the mix, if you are flying within the US or abroad. It seems like a lot of people here are describing meals not in coach!

                                        1. Well, this is pretty good: Airport Sandwiches, a tradition with us. Before a long trip (like Europe) I have roast beef and mashed potatoes two or three nights before we leave and I make a lot. After dinner I freeze some for dinner our first night back, when we will be exhausted and panting for home-cooked food. Then I chop the rest of the meat coarsely in the Cuisinart, bind it with ketchup, and season it with salt and garlic powder. Before we leave I make thick sandwiches and pack them in my handbag with a chemical ice between them. We have eaten Airport Sandwiches on planes, in terminals, outside on benches, and standing in line and I swear I could have sold fifty of them every time we have unwrapped them and people smell and drool. (And yes, I did understand the topic heading but it has been so long since I have eaten anything palatable served on a plane, even the Petrified Peanuts, that I decided to avoid it.)

                                          1. BA has decent food in coach. Bangers and Mash and peas the last time I flew. Thai has Cup Noodle on demand which is not bad, but all that salt isn't good on long flights.

                                            I've given up flying US carriers, at least on long haul flights, because the food is so bad.

                                            1. I fly frequently, the best I've had is on domestic United flights is, soup and sandwich. On international flights it's totally different, most chow that I've had is pretty good considering you're in an airplane.

                                              1. The onion rolls on El Al are awesome. I should add this to the lost food thread. I have been trying to figure out how to make them at home ever since. They are similar in shape and taste to an onion bialy, but a much softer texture without the chew.

                                                1. Biscoff brand speculoos cookies that they hand out at Delta.

                                                  1. The hot salted nuts, and the sundae cart in American's domestic first class is pretty good, and the gingerbread pancakes on Midwest express are really good, too.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: jeanmarieok

                                                      OMG, AA still has the ice cream cart?

                                                      In the mid-80's jfood and a colleague travelled EWR-DFW every week and were always upgraded. They spent the better part of nine months developing the perfect topping combination for the ice cream. It was a combo of fudge, a little caramel, some baily's the whipped cream and a teaspoon of nuts. And some of the flights had a cherry on top.

                                                    2. I fly internationally quite frequently and have found asian airlines superior by far.
                                                      Singapore wins hands down in both cattle class and business, with tasty fresh fare and excellent service, had some very good noodle dishes on cathay pacific, including a spicy laksa.
                                                      Fly emirates most frequently and find the abundance of kir royals and fresh sandwiches made to order on long haul flights (business) a saviour. They also do a cheese platter and hot burrito on the Australia route.
                                                      Domestic economy - found Qantas surprisingly good, with an excellent ham and brie sandwich in rye bread one way and a tart lemon cookie (30min flight) full of lemon rind and juice on the return.

                                                      Worst airline by far in my opinion is Kenya airways. I'd dearly love to be patriotic about this one, but have had far too many bad experiences to be able to recommend it to anyone

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: waytob

                                                        I've flown Kenya Nairobi - CDG quite a bit and really like them. Good people, good food. But your experience may be like mine: I try to, but cannot like Avianca.

                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                          I've been forced to travel KQ far too many times and each time there's been some problem. Case in point, a month ago I went to England - flew Emirates, had the most amazing meal experiences including a fabulous Arabic Mezze and lamb curry with couscous.
                                                          My sister flew on Kenya airways, her husband is a pescatarian and despite pre-ordering a vegetarian meal, they had run out by the time they reached their seats, so no meal for him, just a stale bread roll and salad. She and her daughter received a non descript beef stew, with over cooked beef that was incredibly hard to chew. Breakfast for them was another stale roll. I had croissants with honey and one of the best airline coffee's I have tasted in a while.
                                                          Plus on one route their flight was delayed by 3 hours and on the return 1 bag was left behind at LHR

                                                          1. re: waytob

                                                            I fully agree with you on Emirates (see one of my comments above). Really good food and service. Come by this region and fly Varig and Avianca - they'll delay you and lose your luggage as well.

                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              How about LLoyd Aero Boliviano? American has done me dirt on the SA route. Lsat April, we were on board waiting to leave the ramp and noticed our luggage sitting on the tarmac. We talked to the stewardess several times and she told us not to worry. I relied that I wouldn't worry if it was her luggage either. The plane backed and we watched our luggage sitting on the ground. I caught up w/ us 4 days later.
                                                              LOT, the Polish airline, during the communist era, was a joke. Good vodka though.

                                                      2. There is a website dedicated to photos and reviews of airline meals.
                                                        Check it out You just click on the airline you want to review in the left hand column.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: easily amused

                                                          hasn't been updated in years.

                                                          We had DELICIOUS roti canai for a breakfast flight on Malaysian in December, from KL to Kota Kinabau- not even in biz (biz was in fact empty). Roti canai in coach on a 2.5 hr flight- try that in North America.

                                                        2. I was always shocked by the difference in quality flying into and out of Paris de Gaulle on TWA and then American to and from the U.S. Dreck going over, reasonable, albeit simple sometimes, coming back, thanks to the French catering company. Last trip not so good, though, alas. And an endorsement for Cathay Pacific (haven't done Singapore or Thai) transPacific, even in coach, as well as runs like Bangkok-Hong Kong. Couldn't pass up the curry and was glad I didn't.

                                                          Once upon a time SAS was full of salmon sandwiches they passed out at the drop of a hint. No more, alas, although they DID put us up at an absolutely lovely hotel in Copenhagen when our connecting flight had to be cancelled because of equipment problems. (And the dinner they paid for was deeply forgettable.)

                                                          1. Emirates Airlines has always served me excellent food.

                                                            Cathay Pacific is a close runner-up.

                                                            1. In a new survey, Southwest Air rated # 1 in customer satisfaction.


                                                              2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Fritter

                                                                  That's hardly a negative these days, at least for domestic flights. At least WN doesn't charge you for checking luggage, and their low fares mean you can buy the food you really want to eat before you board your flight. Given a choice of domestic carriers, if I can, I would fly WN.

                                                                1. Cathay Pacific gave out Hagen Daaz ice cream...

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: AngelSanctuary

                                                                    Funny, Air France gives out Hagen Daaz bars over the Atlantic - in the back, much as you want, cattle class.

                                                                  2. The best airline meal I ever had was on an Air Austria flight back to the States. There was an herbed chicken, a sauteed spinach side and gnocchi in a creamy sauce...and I didn't find anything too salty (which I usually do with airline meals). Dessert was a linzer torte which was nice and moist and flavorful, not overly sweet. Pleasantly surprised!

                                                                    Air India between JFK and London had passable curries when I last flew (over 7 years ago! Ha!).

                                                                    Continental has the best in-flight meals among the American carriers, I've found. Though Delta does have those delicious cinnamon cookies... And of course much has already been said about JetBlue's great snacks. They're what got me loving TerraBlue chips.

                                                                    China Airlines actually had some okay food, though it was mainly of the "drenched in a soy sauce-based sauce served with rice" variety. They did throw in some veggies in there, as well.

                                                                    I'm only talking about economy class, of course. Never had the pleasure to experience business or first class. One day, though!