HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Well, sort of about food - preordering meals on US Air....

This is sort of like that old joke about the two women complaining about the food they ate at their recent stay in a Catskills resort: "The food was awful!" "Yes, and they served such small portions!..."

I was very nervous about how to handle my food necessities on an upcoming (short) trip to Chicago. I have to work until around 2pm on Friday with no real break, then head straight to the airport to catch my flight. I do change planes in Phoenix, but with less than an hour there I can't count on having time to buy food. (And really, I may not have enough time to purchase anything at the airport before I leave). I know there are meals for sale onboard, but it always seems that they run out of everything before half the plane is served, and the variety/portion size doesn't make for a satisfying meal.....and I have been on flights where there were no real meals available, only snacks....

So I was trying to convince my hubby to have a lunch ready for me when he took me to the airport after work, but his culinary strengths don't lend themselves to grab and carry meals. So I was actually pleasantly surprised to receive an email from US Air: apparently they now offer you the chance to pre-order a meal before the flight (and you can change it up to 24 hours in advance). Then when you get on the plane they just bring it to you and charge your credit card. If the flight is cancelled or you miss it due to delays, no meal and you don't have to pay.

Sure, its the same old lousy food, but at least you know that there will be enough for you to have some. (Or should I not count on it working as advertised?) Have any of you ever done this, and if so is there a particular meal choice that is better than the others? Is the fruit/cheese plate enough for a light supper? How about the salads (the one offered comes with chicken....). Remember, I would normally bring my own or buy something at the airport, but the timing (including an event the evening before) makes it very difficult for me to do so this trip.....

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The whole concept of actually paying for an in-flight meal is beyond my ken. All I can say is I hope it works out and you are pleasantly surprised. Please report back on the outcome.

    1 Reply
    1. re: grampart

      We fly a good bit and still find it one of the best bargains around. With the legitimate financial difficulties that US carriers face, I think charging for meals on shorter flight (or any for that matter) makes a world of sense.

    2. I would just not do this. It's not that hard to stop somewhere like a grocery store the day before and run in and get a ready to eat sandwich or salad that you can take with you the next day. Airplane food, pre-ordered or not, is horrid. You could buy a few things Thurs night - snacks, a sandwich, whatever, or make them even, and then just take them with you. You could take a packet of tuna and crackers or something if you're worried about spoilage. Anything is better than airplane food, seriously.

      3 Replies
      1. re: rockandroller1

        r&r's right. Put down the fork, Morton, there are more choices available.

          1. re: rockandroller1

            The main problem isn't airplane food; the problem is airplanes. Low humidity, low pressure, and engine noise all interfere with our sense of taste. The food itself is pretty much the same quality as any other cheap pre-packaged convenience food (though they charge about twice what it's worth).

          2. I would eat in the car on the way to the airport, perhaps your husband can bring a sub sandwich or something like that. I would also bring a snack or two, like nuts or a granola bar, if I start feeling peckish on the plane. Then, have a late dinner once I got to where I was going.

            9 Replies
            1. re: juliejulez

              That's my point. There're always more choices.

              1. re: juliejulez

                Well, the flight doesn't land until midnight Chicago time, so a late dinner once I get there is probably not a good option, especially since I have to be up and semi-alert at 7:30 or so the next am. And I plan on bringing a snack or maybe a sandwich to work to nibble on before I get off at two. And I HATE sub sandwiches.....reminds me of Subway (see the thread somewhere about the smell...). I just wondered if anyone had actually TRIED the options listed....how bad can a fruit/cheese plate be anyway? And the drive from work to the airport is about 10 minutes, max, so eating in the car on the way is not a good option. If I had an hour to kill I would go to a favorite pho joint just a block or so from the airport and fill up there. But I really don't. When I said "short" trip to Chicago, I didn't mean it is a short fight for me....just one of those weekends where I will spend as much time in airports and airplanes as in meetings....

                1. re: janetofreno

                  My experience with in-flight meals is that fruit and raw veggies can get really really bad.

                  Personally, I would go for whatever is the most "cooked" (microved on the plane...) or packaged (cheese & crackers, yogurts, nuts, etc) and treat it as a case where the inflight meal is there to make sure you don't arrive hungry and/or cranky. Aside from raw vegetables and fruit, I've never had an inflight meal that was so bad I'd describe it as inedible.

                  1. re: cresyd

                    I think I go with you. Every inflight meal I've ever had the salad was the weak link. Limp greens, pink tomatoes, etc. I'm not real picky with airplane food. We recently had a pasta saucy thing that was actually quite good. Along with the ubiquitous roll, butter, packet of cheese and dessert, it was fine. Fuel but fine.

                    Recently we weren't sure if our connection was going to allow us to grab lunch, so I packed some cheese, pate', olives and crackers in a little divided refrigerator container. Really enjoyed that. Not what you asked but just saying.

                  2. re: janetofreno

                    Another thing to keep in mind is the option of ordering a kosher or vegetarian meal. As those are more often made to order, there's a greater likelihood of freshness.

                    1. re: cresyd

                      Good point Cresyd - I've always found the vegetarian option the best of all options, although I've never ordered a kosher.

                    2. re: janetofreno

                      I have not had the fruit/cheese plate on US Air, but I've had it on United and it's not good. The fruit was not really fresh and had no flavor.

                      1. re: janetofreno

                        Can your hubby manage a good ol' PB&J? That can be eaten in 10 minutes :)

                        1. re: juliejulez

                          Haha, that was exactly what I was thinking. OP put it very diplomatically: `his culinary strengths don't lend themselves to grab and carry meals.' Not sure what culinary skills are involved in something like PB&J and dropping an apple and some cookies in a bag.

                          Of course, OP's real question is regarding people's actual experiences with calling ahead and pre-ordering. I have no experience with this except on the few occasions back when serving hot meals was standard, and I'd sometimes put in a special meal request. They got it right about 75% of the time --out of maybe four occasions I tried it, so hardly a statistically meaningful estimate.

                    3. Ask your husband to stop by the store on the way to pick you up and buy a couple slices of salami/ham/turkey, a couple of slices of various non-stinky cheeses, and a mini baguette or roll. Order a glass of wine and enjoy your own little picnic as others eat their wilted salads and fruit plates. Relax and peruse the SkyMall catalog to find your husband a personalized steak-branding, vibra-massage wine opener tuned to the Atomic clock as a thank you for the nice lunch.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: seamunky

                        Probably the best suggestion so far:-) Unfortunately DH doesn't eat steaks so won't appreciate the branding. And since he doesn't eat meat and has cheese very rarely, he might not be the best person to trust to buy the picnic. Wish this town had a decent chaat house; he could be trusted to pick up some bhel puri and maybe some dhokla....now that would make a good picnic!

                      2. I'm very interested to hear how this works out if you do order the meal. Given the size of the country where I'm living now, the vast majority of all my flights are international which I think usually lends itself to vaguely better meals (but at least they're free).

                        I personally don't mind eating the free airline meal over bring my own, because I find most brought meals to always end up smelling really strongly on the flight. No matter how tame it seems ahead of time.

                        1. I guess if I was in this quandary where I would not be able to eat something in some way or another and are limited to the airplane "food", I'd probably end up not eating at all. Life is too short to drink bad wine.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Uncle Yabai

                            Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that sometimes food, even for a CH, is simply fuel.

                          2. I checked on the USAir website to see what they offer; from my read, it appears that the economy class order-ahead option ("DineFresh") doesn't apply to domestic routes. (If you're flying FancyDancyClass, things may be different and are outside of my experience lol.) Your e-mail may have more up-to-date info than the website, also.

                            (ETA link:)

                            In any case -- we always travel with a small assortment of eats that can be peasant snack, lunch, or dinner. Reasonably tolerant of being out of fridge, reasonably non-smelly, finger-friendly, assorted textures. In a similar situation I'd take 10 minutes to pack into their own ziplocks on Thurs evening:

                            grapes or tangerine slices
                            carrot and celery sticks, snap peas, grape toms
                            cheddar and pepper jack slices/cubes
                            pepperoni slices, or dry salami slices
                            hummus (double-ziplock
                            )assorted nuts
                            paper napkins

                            Toss all the little ziplocks into a plastic grocery bag, then into a small soft-side lunch cooler (six-pack size), and tote it along with your regular lunch on Friday. Make sure to remember to pull it from the office fridge, leave the empty cooler on your desk, and stuff the food into your carryon.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: DuchessNukem

                              This is absolutely what I would do. I sympathize; I get migraines if I miss meals, and as a vegetarian whose body just doesn't handle travel terribly well, I do understand why you are nervous (my worst was when I taught all from 8 am until noon, and drive straight to the airport--an hour trip--to board a flight to ROME for a conference. For that trip, I had my spouse, who may in no way be described as any kind of cook, dump a can of drained cannellini beans into a container of whole-wheat spaghetti, top with a little olive oil, red pepper flakes, and parmesan... I ate it quickly in a faroff long-term parking lot before taking the shuttle to the airport). Aside from the fact that there is usually nothing I can eat anyway, eating crappy food on the plane or in the airport makes me feel even worse, and I generally do much better if I eat my own stuff.

                              1. re: DuchessNukem

                                In fact, here is what I'd try to do:

                                spaghetti salad of some sort (you can do a sesame oil/peanut butter thing with some veg--stays fine out of the fridge), or you can copy my cannellini bean idea that I just posted--it sounds plain, maybe, but it's protein and it stays with you.)

                                babybel cheese--seems to stay good FOREVER and requires no packaging

                                baguette/cheese/meat if you eat meat (I don't)


                                carrot sticks, celery, etc

                                love the M&M idea!!

                                1. re: IndyGirl

                                  Blueberries are my food of choice.

                              2. I've flown with AA from NY to CA and have been offered half a ham sandwich, a small bag of chips and small soda for $10. Considering the cost, portion, and quality (or lack thereof) I'd rather burn my own body fat and Goto sleep.

                                When I fly British Airways I am given drink (alcohol is an option) and either cookies or chips for a 45 min flight from London to Paris. BA from San Diego to London gives me 2-3 meals and a never ending box full of snacks at the back.

                                Given all that, I'd rather starve than give some punk ass airline anymore money.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: youareabunny

                                  BA and most/other non-US carriers are govt. subsidized and that's why you get free food and drink.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Not only that, but the fare you pay on BA is likely to be considerably higher than what you will likely pay on a US carrier for the same distance. If you fly on lower fare carriers in Europe (supposedly the land of the free gourmet in-flight meal) you'll be on something like EasyJet or Ryan and you'll be lucky to get a glass of water. The idea of this great service/meal on non-US carriers at the same fare is a myth that is constantly put forward by folks who are flying on somebody else's dime and aren't paying attention to the fare.

                                    Just for fun I just did a quick search of LHR-CDG rt for May 1/3 and got a fare of $554 on BA. For that they should give you caviar.

                                    1. re: johnb

                                      I use a 3rd party site and to fly San Diego to Paris is the same cost whether I'm flying AA, BA, Delta, etc.

                                      Your $554 figure also factors in the fact that you picked a flight with just one week to spare. I searched the same flight for June and was quoted half that.

                                      1. re: youareabunny

                                        Of course you will see the same fares on the same route for the same times. It is a competitive industry. That doesn't tell the whole story.

                                        c oliver's comment about subsidy explains one way they can give better service. My point was that another way they can give these higher levels of service is by charging more when/where they can, and using the excess for all routes (internal cross subsidy). US carriers charge less in general, and their service is, accordingly, less in general. You mentioned London-Paris, but US routes flown by US carriers at lower fares cannot be compared to European routes flown (at higher fares) by European carriers, who can then obviously give more service but also use those excess profits to cross-subsidize service on other routes where they have to compete. The foreign carriers have no magic formula to give better service -- they can give more service because they charge more, and/or because they pay their people less (e.g. Singapore Airlines), and/or because they enjoy some form of subsidy or protection. All other costs and operating factors are the same.

                                        As to next week vs. next month, you will see lower fares for all routes with longer lead times, whether intra-Europe or intra-US. The point is that legacy carrier fares on the whole are lower in the US than in Europe. And that is why you see lower service levels in the US.

                                    2. re: c oliver

                                      I can see that having to do with it. Explains why the staff, seats, and tv's are much better too.

                                  2. Janet, I sympathize. Everyone here is telling you what your alternatives are. I know that you know what they are; you just are anticipating not having enough time to do them! Sometimes that's how it goes, and you have to make the best of the options available to you. If it were me, I would give it a try. Yes, I KNOW it will be subpar, but I need to eat regularly, and when work doesn't allow for a real meal with good food, I eat what is available. In the circumstances you describe, I would probably take the chance and pre-order something, probably the salad, knowing that at least you will have something in your belly. I would also take along a protein bar or granola bar just to supplement, because I do think the portions are rather small. Sometimes when traveling for business, expediency trumps good food. If you're like me, not eating would be worse than eating bad food. Sorry I can't offer you the benefit of experience, but if you do try it, I'd be interested to hear how it turned out.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: lisavf

                                      I have to agree - sometimes food is there not for enjoyment but to prevent feeling ill, light headed, cranky, having a head ache and other unpleasant symptoms associated with hunger. Personally, I hate arriving in an airport hungry - especially if that's my final destination. Most of the eateries located outside of security/near baggage are uninspiring at best (as well as overpriced) and sometimes limited to vending machines. And feeling like I absolutely have to go somewhere to eat the second I leave the airport is an equally unpleasant feeling.

                                      Being able to arrive at my destination, and being able to be flexible (what if my luggage got lost, what if the person picking me up is late, etc), arrive to where I'm staying, change clothes - and then get to think about food is well worth one uninspiring meal.

                                    2. Not on US Air specifically, but I've bought sandwiches and fruit/cheese plates a couple of times while flying. Quality is on par with the pre-packaged stuff at a convenience store. As I recall, the fruit was better than the sandwiches. Portion size is small, but depending on your appetite, it may be enough for a light lunch.

                                      1. Just remembered that you're back in Reno. I got our goodies at Wedge the cheese shop on St. Lawrence right off Virginia. It's an amazing place.

                                        1. I had a day of flying recently, and had a short layover at an unfamiliar airport. I packed string cheese, walnuts, and peanut m&m's to get me through. I didn't want to charge a meal on the flight, but the meal/snack packs were quite tempting. I was quite hungry when I got to my destination. If they have emailed you with options (which sounds different than what they have on their website), just order something that you think you'd like, but remember, it won't be a "foodie" experience, and it's just fuel. It will save you from having to deal with it if you really don't have the time or inclination to pack a lunch. Will the food be worth the money? No, but the convenience will be worth it.

                                          1. How long is your flight? I do the RIC to PHL to LA thing once a month, and I usually just throw some nuts, a granola bar, peanut butter crackers, etc in my bag. Then grab a bite when I get to LA.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: jeanmarieok

                                              The "grab a bite when you get there" thing works a lot easier when flying East to West. When flying West to East you lose time, and often arrive long after dinner time.....Keep that in mind.....

                                            2. This is a common problem for me but I have no husband to pick me up as he is working. How hard is it to make your own meal the night before, pack it in a soft sided cooler and bringing it to work with you or since he can do it, having your husband bring it? Leave the drink at home so it passes security and then buying a drink on the other side or getting one on a plane.

                                              Or how about bringing the soft sided cooler to the office with freezer packs and then ordering in and packing it up yourself?

                                              My back up plan is a zip lock bag of raw almonds and dried fruit and a granola bar. Sometime you have to suck it up and eat what is available. As someone else said there are times when even CH's have to deal with food as simply fuel.

                                              Honestly - you seem dead set against any alternative options so just order the meal and report back. Maybe we all missing something!

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: foodieX2

                                                I think that's QUITE harsh! OP asked if anyone had experience with this particular process. And we're all jumping around telling her other things. She didn't ask for "alternative options." Rant over :)

                                                1. re: foodieX2

                                                  Well, I'm fully capable of alternatives. But there is an event I committed to going to the night before my flight (ie tomorrow night). It is in our state capitol, 30 miles away, and I barely have time to get there from work assuming I get off on time (not a good assumption always:-). And then I will be back from that event around 9pm, and have to be at work at 8am Friday......And somewhere there I have to do a load of laundry and pack. I WILL bring a zip lock bag of raw almonds and dried fruit, and I suspect they will be eaten by 11am when I am at work with no break for five hours Fri. am. And DH COULD make me something, and it would no doubt be delicious, but I guarantee you it would be spicy and (overly) fragrant and perhaps not the best choice when crammed into a thin metal tube.....so my question is and was: has anyone tried any of the offered meals? Do they really have them as ordered? I have been on MANY flights were there was supposedly some kind of food for sale and it was long gone before anyone offered any to me. Not eating is NOT a good alternative, especially if you are my seatmate. Drinking and not eating is worse. And yes, this is about fuel. If I have to eat the US Air fuel, wondering if A. it will really be available, and B. what options are best. Geez.

                                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                                    I guess I'm not understanding the problem.
                                                    You have to get to the airport with a decent amount of time before the flight departs? Within that time I've always had enough time to go and purchase a bagel, fruit, cheese to take on the flight with enough time to go and drink a beer or wine at the bar with a few nuts or pretzels on the side.
                                                    If I take a flight that's longer than 4 hours I've preordered a kosher meal that's been very fresh and tasty...usually dairy with bagel and cream cheese and veggies. It's always been great.

                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                      I think that the problem in this case is that the OP is presenting a situation where eating ahead of time and/or getting snacks won't work.

                                                      Given that in this very specific situation that is not an option, the question asks if anyone has experience with preordering meals from US Air. However, a number of the comments have followed along the lines of "find a way to bring your own food".

                                                      I do agree though that if you're going to get a meal ordering a kosher, halal, vegetarian, low calorie, etc. meal (given the options of your airline and flight) always increases the chance that the meal will be fresher and less prepackaged.

                                                      1. re: cresyd

                                                        <always increases the chance that the meal will be fresher and less prepackaged.>

                                                        Exactly what was thinking when I first started purchasing the ones you've listed *and* it proved to be right.
                                                        The meals *are* fresher and a little more creative, in my opinion. It's definitely the option the OP is looking for as far as I'm concerned.

                                                        1. re: latindancer

                                                          Yeah - I think the fact that they are made less "in bulk" than standard meals helps with both creativity and freshness. I primarily fly in/out of Israel - and so kosher meals are made in far greater bulk . The higher level of kashrut meals that I've seen on El Al or kosher meals on other carriers to/from Israel end up being no more appealing in how they look. But for non "heavy kosher" traffic, the lack of bulk production probably really helps.

                                                    2. re: janetofreno

                                                      I guess all I can offer is that I WISH I would have gotten a meal on the plane. I was very envious. From what I saw, the meals looked good, although I was on a different airline, so not sure if the meals on your airline are the same.
                                                      Just order a meal, be done with it. Then let us now if you were satisfied or if it was truly a waste of your $.

                                                      1. re: janetofreno

                                                        I never have understood why people can't simply answer the questions that are asked on here, rather than attempt to tell people what they think they should do, and get all judgemental about it to boot.

                                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                                          Janet, one more thought. Maybe when you board the plane, you can make a point of advising one of the flight attendants that you pre-ordered a meal and under your circumstances for this flight, you want to make sure you will get it. Then if they don't have the pre-order, they may reserve one of the available in-flight meals for you.

                                                      2. If you're going to do this, I would order something that is essentially finger food. I travel for business regularly and have ordered meals. As you already suspect, the food does suck. But what is even more annoying to me is the cramped space in which you have to eat. Invariably, when I am really hungry, we encounter turbulence and service is delayed. When food finally does materialize, the person in front of my has reclined his/her seat and it is virtually impossible to use a fork and knive. And likely the person squeezed in next to me is hogging the arm rest so my arms are pinned to my side.

                                                        What I usually do is bring snack bags of fruit, nuts, peeled HB eggs, granola, etc. For the return flight when I'm not departing from home, I try to either eat in the airport or grab a sandwich as I'm walking to my gate. That reminds me of the worst wrap ever - purchased at Midway recently. I was trying to be healthy and bought a veggie wrap. I wasn't prepared for the soggy veg and complete lack of any flavoring agents - mustard, aioli, anything. Just soggy green matter in a cold WW tortilla. Yuk. I bought a bloody mary on the plane and got my nutrition that way.

                                                        1. Janet, I'm hoping you check in to let us know what you ended up doing and how it went!

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: IndyGirl

                                                            OK, here's my report: To some extent, my worries turned out to be moot: I got off work early (which almost NEVER happens), AND there was NO line at security on a Friday afternoon...so as it turned out I DID have time to eat at the airport in Reno. And although it probably belongs on another thread, I have to give a shoutout to the new bar/restaurant between the concourses but after Security. Great vegetarian bean soup and fairly reasonable prices. And they have a wood-fired pizza oven! AND my flight was early in arriving in Phoenix, AND the departing flight was at an adjacent gate to the one from Reno, so there WAS time to buy something to eat in Phoenix, even with only a 40 minute layover.

                                                            As for the food I pre-ordered: when I got to my seat, the flight attendant came over even before the plane took off and said "Janet, right? I have your meal for you." And then he informed me what I'd already guessed: "Its probably good you ordered ahead of time; this is a full flight and they only loaded five meals to sell" (Note to US Air: why not load more - you probably could have sold them and made money?) And as for those who suggested the veggie and/or kosher meals, I don't think that's an option in coach with the meals for purchase (it certainly wasn't listed as an option in the pre-order email I received, and if I had tried to ask for it I probably would have been told that the fruit/cheese plate WAS the kosher and vegetarian option:-). You guys have been living in first class too long:-) I do exactly that when I take an international flight, btw.

                                                            As for the meal itself, I got a salad. I HATE wraps, and that was really the only option other than the fruit and cheese plate or the dreaded wrap. And it was edible, but barely:-) But if I hadn't been having such a good karma day and hadn't had time to eat before the flight, I would have been glad to have it. And glad to have ordered it, since the meals for sale were long gone by the time they got to row 24.......

                                                            1. re: janetofreno

                                                              "....since the meals for sale were long gone by the time they got to row 24......."

                                                              I'm surprised they didn't hold an auction.

                                                              1. re: janetofreno


                                                                Glad it all worked out for you :).

                                                                1. re: janetofreno

                                                                  At the Reno airport, were you referring to Wild Garlic Pizza & Pub? We ate at the one on Mt. Rose, where Sezmu was, and I keep meaning to do a little writeup.

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    Honestly, I don't remember the name. But that doesn't ring a bell....I know my husband did some work on the TVs at the one on Mt. Rose, and I think I would have remembered if it was the same place. But I could be wrong. I remember it being something mountain-related in the name. And although they have a pizza oven, they specialize in flat breads (with toppings so like pizza....). It is literally right above security in the large area between the two concourses that used to be security until it was moved downstairs....

                                                              2. The point is to safely get you from A to B.
                                                                Put it this way- if Greyhound and/or Amtrak started catering, what color would your face turn?

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                  I don't think OP was questioning the fact that they don't routinely provide food, but rather was seeking opinions on the pre-ordering option. BTW Amtrak provides food for purchase. I don't understand color of the face comment at all.

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    yes. and after a fairly recent Amtrak trip I can attest that the catered food (at least on our run) was about the caliber of that on airplanes...and while they appear to stock enough, unlike the planes (perhaps a bit more storage room?) the 'dining car' (which was more a snack car on the train between DC and Raleigh, NC) closed during odd hours, so one could not always get something to eat when one wanted it. (they did warn you before closing).

                                                                    You can upgrade to business class on many Amtrak routes now, which I did, as it only costs a few bucks to do so. The difference is that you will be guaranteed a seat (apparently, buying a ticket but having to spend the trip in the dining car or lounge car is not uncommon), bring you a newspaper, and serve you non-alcoholic drinks at your seat (with no charge IIRC). So actually, at least in 'business class' I found the service to be very similar to what one gets on an airplane, but with MUCH more comfortable seats, more leg room (even if not in business class), MUCH less crammed and crowded, room to spread out and read, surf the internet, or just watch the world go by. Recommended for those with high tolerance for delays. (but then, I suppose the same could be said of air travel these days), but not recommended for the food.