HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Odorless Airplane food?

I recently had an international flight that left at 5am (so I may have just been very sleep deprived and cranky), but the guy sitting next to me opened a sealed package of cashews - an item I don't consider very fragrant and like eating. However, the smell in the context of being on an airplane felt like someone had just stuffed my head into a jar of cashew butter. I was very aware of the smell and was thrilled when he put them away.

That being said, when the flight meals were passed around, there was no noticeable smell (and I never remember smelling an airplane meal). Not that in-flight (coach) meals have ever been known to be amazing - but this made me wonder if something is specifically done to food served on airplanes to make it as odorless as possible?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. they're generally served warm leaving less fragrence, not hot, or cold and most items are wrapped. I just love the person on an early am flight with a smelly cheap meat cold cut sammie or sitting next to someone who had heavy garlic and ripple wine the night before.

    1. "if something is specifically done to food served on airplanes to make it as odorless as possible?"

      Probably something in the process that also renders them utterly flavourless.

        1. re: whs

          Interesting. Well, I have to say, after nearly gaging on this guy's fairly generic "brought from home" snacks - I was thrilled that the actual in-flight meal was completely nondescript.

        2. I was on a flight once and a person in front of me (at least it was not right beside me) ate a brought-from-home tuna salad sandwich. I have always wondered whether that person was simply oblivious or deliberately brought that sandwich to annoy others.

          6 Replies
          1. re: John E.

            I've been guilty of eating a muffaletta from Central Grocery on a flight back home from New Orleans.

            1. re: whs

              "eating a muffaletta from Central Grocery on a flight back home"

              To my ears, used to British English, that sounds like something that could easily get you arrested here.

              1. re: Harters

                heh -- but it's really just a delicious sandwich of meats, cheeses, and pickled vegetables.

                  1. re: Harters

                    Or a phone number furtively stuffed into your pocket...

                  2. re: whs

                    Me too! Fortunately, my BF was seated next to me, and if anyone was hating on me from behind or in front of us, I didn't notice. It sure was GOOD!

                1. I have no idea what is done to the plane food, but I can smell it before I see it when they start serving it to the first rows far away from me on international flights. I am guilty of bringing things like barbacoa tacos or Vietnamese salad rolls on the plane. I have to eat something, after all all. I'd draw the line at anything overtly fishy.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    I actually did smell the food on my very last flight - but it was also an unusual case where the hot meal was actually served hot (and not lukewarm). This was a meal on Swiss Air, which I find for coach to be a hair better than most other coach flight experience.
                    However in general, I think I'm just sensitive to smells but the cashews had me wondering if it was just me or something else. .

                    1. re: luckyfatima

                      I can almost always smell beef dishes from the opposite end of the cabin -- and pasta dishes as the cart gets closer to me

                    2. I recall reading that the plane environment itself (high altitude?) cuts down on the odor of food. That's why they have to oversalt/overseason everything, or else it will be totally bland. It's a big challenge to make airplane food palatable for this reason.
                      Ah, here it is:
                      (I think I originally read the NYTimes article, but with the paywall and everything...here's a summary)

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: khh1138

                        I remember reading in one of the in-flight magazines about the challenges of choosing wines, because the atmosphere and dry air throw a serious wrench into the way your nose and palate work.

                        1. re: khh1138

                          Ultimately, my guess would be that it's a mix of the fact that the "cashew" incident happened when we were still on the ground as opposed to being in the air. Also, when the plane is on the ground, I find that the temperature inside the airplane to be warmer which probably makes smells stronger as well.

                        2. "That being said, when the flight meals were passed around, there was no noticeable smell (and I never remember smelling an airplane meal). Not that in-flight (coach) meals have ever been known to be amazing - but this made me wonder if something is specifically done to food served on airplanes to make it as odorless as possible?"

                          I can smell airline food while it is being heated and when it is served rows ahead of me. It has that generic cafeteria mixed/overcooked/bad food smell. Maybe you don't realize it because it is not one specific smell like steak or pizza...or cashews for that matter.

                          1. I'm just a plane food hater in general. I'm able to sniff it out from the the time prep starts until the last on is cleared away. I'll eat the bread and crackers and junk like that, but if it's an international flight, I want to eat what's waiting for me on the other end :)

                            1. hm. now i'm wondering if our neighbors on our flight sunday were hating us for the jamaican chicken patties we ate about 1/2 way through the flight. I don't think they were very fragrant, they were not very warm any more. boy oh boy they were good though! :)

                              1. I don't ever recall seeing anyone actually do this, but can a passenger bring a meal on board and have the stewardess heat it up for them? I can't imagine this being allowed (ever), but think of the aromas if it were. Curry from seats 3 and 4, garlic butter from seats 15 and 16, tomato basil from seats 21 and 22, mustard oil from seat 47, and stinky tofu from seats 108 and 109.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Cheese Boy

                                  I'm guessing that's why it's not allowed.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    It's not common, but it happens. I was on a flight to Hong Kong from the west coast. A woman, travelling with two daughters under 12, brought them giant containers of ramen soup and the stewardesses made it for them.

                                    The odd thing was that they must have served us 4 complete meals on that flight, including free wine and beer.

                                    I've also had baby bottles of formula heated up.

                                    1. re: 512window

                                      baby bottles, yes -- never seen/heard of anything else, aside from your mention.

                                      1. re: 512window

                                        once upon a time,longish time ago

                                        CATHAY PACIFIC , SINGAPORE AIR , SWISS AIR and a few others I can't recall at the moment often had very special meals service as described.At times even more involved.

                                        1. re: lcool

                                          'At times even more involved.'

                                          This is funny and interesting at the same time.
                                          I can only imagine some of the requests.

                                  2. I'm guessing you didn't smell the cashews - - you smelled the chewed cashew on his breath as he exhaled. A tuna or egg salad sandwich would therefore smell of not just the meal but the macerated tuna and egg.

                                    I'll bet together we could come up with a list of items that are relatively odorless, even when consumed. Or even better, foods that are a pleasure to be associated with in close quarters, like mint?

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: GraydonCarter

                                      The only reason why I would guess the smell was "pre chew" was because they were in a sealed plastic bag that once open - I imagine releasing a smell. So more the fault of the packaging than the nuts. That being said, it was also 5am, and with very limited sleep I'm completely open to either being overly sensitive or just cranky.

                                      On that specific flight, ultiamtely I was able to switch to a completely empty row with three seats - so the irritation overall was pretty limited. I was just more curious if anything specific happens to airplane food to make it odor free rather than to complain about my seatmate's complete right to eat his own food.

                                      1. re: cresyd

                                        while we can joke about it, I'm not certain that even with the technology at hand to render food colorless and tasteless, that it's possible to make it odorless.