25 Crazy Facts About Airplane Food (2023)

25 Crazy Facts About Airplane Food (1)


BySyjil Ashraf|May 9, 2019 10:30 am EST

Frequent flyers tend to have a love-hate relationship with airplane food. While in-flight meals often get a bad rap, many airlines still distinguish themselves through their onboard offerings. Some airline passengers are better off eating something in the terminal before boarding, whereas others will be met with more tolerable in-flight options. The difference in food is also often a big reason why some choose to fly business or first class instead of economy.

Most airlines work hard to make sure their passengers are as comfortable as possible, and food is a big part of that. Decent food can be key to helping you survive a long flight, and airline catering has such importance to the overall business that a lot of thought and money goes into it. If you care about what you eat mid-air, you may find these 25 crazy facts about airplane food to be of interest.

Airline catering is a multibillion-dollar industry

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Airline catering is a $13 billion global industry. The market size is expected to grow to $18 billion by 2021.

Airline food is 100 years old

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On October 11, 1919, Handley-Page served the first in-flight meals on their London to Paris route. For three shillings, passengers could purchase a pre-packaged lunch of a sandwich and fruit.

Airlines can differ on how they want their fruit cut

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Airlines are very precise about the requirements for their food. While many of them cater from the same companies, their requests from said companies may differ. Not only does this mean they order different foods, but how those foods are presented can be different too. Airlines are even known to request that their fruit be cut in a certain way or weigh a certain amount while still fitting into their bowls.

Flight delays can cause food waste

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Whether you're a passenger or airline staff, it's hard to deal with flight delays. Not only does uneaten food get thrown out after every flight, but if the flight has been delayed for over six to eight hours, all the food that's already been loaded onto a plane also gets thrown out. The entire load of food will get replaced in order to ensure food safety and quality.

Food must be cooked on the ground

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Airplanes don't have proper kitchens due to safety reasons. Instead, the food is mostly prepared on the ground prior to the flight, and it can only be reheated once on board. The cabin crew must then use a convection oven that blows hot, dry air over the food that needs to be heated up. Some of the newer models have steam ovens, which are better for keeping food moist.

Food tastes totally different mid-air

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You're nowhere near alone if you despise airplane food. But it's not the in-flight meal, it's you. Food and drink taste very different to us at 30,000 feet due to humidity and low air pressure. At a high altitude, your ability to pick up sweet tastes drops by 15 to 20 percent, while your perception of saltiness drops by 20 to 30 percent.

Fruity wines are preferred

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The changes in your taste buds at a high altitude affect what's on the wine menu. Wines that are more acidic and high in tannins aren't as enjoyable in flight, so most airlines tend to carry fragrant and fruity wines instead.

It isn’t exactly fresh

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In-flight meals are generally prepared 10 hours before they're supposed to be eaten. Sometimes, however, they can be made up to 72 hours beforehand, after which they are frozen. It's totally safe, though. Under international food safety standards, airlines can freeze food for up to five days and still safely serve it to passengers.

It’s even more overpriced than you think

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If you've flown before, you've likely noticed how expensive in-flight food and drink can be. A 2013 report found that airlines actually charge over 2,600 percent more than supermarkets. That's not even considering the gourmet options available on more luxurious airlines.

Loud cabin noise can affect how your food tastes

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In addition to taste and smell, your hearing can also affect how you experience food. According to recent studies, constantly hearing loud noises while you're eating can cause your food to taste less sweet and less salty to you. Listening to music on your headphones can counter this, however.

Meat is not fully cooked

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Beef is cooked only 30 percent to completion, and chicken only 60 percent, before being brought on board. Not to worry, however. The meat is then cooked the rest of the way on board in the airplane's convection or steam oven after getting blast-chilled in special fridges before transfer.

Menus are planned up to a year in advance

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Airlines plan their in-flight menus at least six months in advance, and sometimes up to a full year ahead of time.

Menus are planned very carefully for financial reasons

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A lot goes into all that planning, down to every single ingredient. American Airlines famously saved $40,000 a year in 1987 by getting rid of just one olive from their salads. According to Delta Airlines, 60 percent of the cost of each meal is because of the actual entrée, while appetizers make up 17 percent, salads 10 percent, and desserts account for 7 percent. Delta saved $250,000 a year by shaving just an ounce from their steaks, and similar to American, removed a single strawberry from their in-flight salads (served in first class on domestic routes) for savings of $210,000 a year.

Passengers accumulate millions of tons of trash every year

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According to the International Air Transport Association, flight passengers generated a total of 5.7 million tons of trash in 2017. This statistic includes amenities such as toothbrushes, magazines and more, as well as toilet waste, but a significant portion comes from waste from in-flight meals. The waste is either incinerated or sent to landfills, rarely being recycled.

Not eating on the plane can be bad for your health

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Make sure you don't go hungry during your flight. Neglecting to eat during your journey could cause your blood sugar levels to drop, making you feel weak and shaky. This can also lead to headaches and changes in mood. It won't help you fight jet lag, either, if you're traveling to a different time zone; it can actually worsen its effects.

Pilots have different meals

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Co-pilots on a flight are given different meals. It's rare for in-flight meals to give you food poisoning, but this is done as an added precaution to make sure both pilots don't get sick!

Sauce is the way to go

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Not only does the dry air at a high altitude dry out your sinuses, it also dries out your food. Sauce-based dishes such as pastas and curries do better as in-flight meals due to the fact that they are moist by nature. That's why most airlines tend to have saucy dishes, and why you should try to order them where you can.

The September 11th attacks affected in-flight dining

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The terrorist attacks on 9/11 not only affected airline costs and security measures at airports — they changed in-flight dining as well. As a result, airline carriers started to use plastic utensils instead of reusable cutlery, costing some airlines financially. This was the reason why many of them, particularly in the U.S., stopped offering full meals and began giving out peanuts and soft drinks instead. Luckily, however, some airlines have started to bring back free meals.

Snacks are actually unlimited

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Your flight crew might not tell you this, but the snacks on a plane are actually totally unlimited. As long as everyone has already had theirs, feel free to politely ask one of the cabin crew for seconds.

Tomato juice tastes better in the air

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As a result of the differences in taste perception, a study found that most people who order tomato juice on a flight would never order it otherwise. Tomato juice has a nice, fruity taste on an airplane, as opposed to the earthy taste observed on the ground. In fact, it's such a popular drink that when United Airlines decided to take it off their shorter flights in 2018, the widespread backlash forced them to reverse their decision.

Umami is unaffected

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Umami, the fifth taste besides salty, sweet, sour and bitter, is the only taste that is unaffected at such a high altitude. For reference, that's the savory taste you get from foods such as tomatoes, spinach, shellfish and soy sauce. That's probably why you see so many in-flight meals with tomatoes in them, in addition to all the tomato juice served on board.

Water on board is disgusting

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When the flight attendant asks if you would like some tea or coffee, we recommend you skip it. The water on board comes from a tank that isn't cleaned as often as it should be, resulting in dirty and stale water. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency found that one in eight American airplanes did not meet their standards for water safety, and that the tap water supply on 12 percent of commercial planes tested positive for fecal bacteria.

You can buy in-flight meals on the black market

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Even airline food can hit the black market, and you can get pretty good deals, too. This is particularly prevalent in India. A bottle of Tropicana juice can go for as low as 32 cents! Most of it comes from airline employees who stole the food off the plane, but some of it even comes from airport dumpsters where people find plenty of unused meals and drinks.

You consume way more calories on a flight than you normally would

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The average British passenger consumes more than 3,400 calories between check-in before departure and arrival at their destination, according to one estimation. We imagine this isn't much different for passengers in other countries (and if anything, higher for Americans). This has been attributed to multiple factors, including higher salt and sugar in airplane food as a result of the decrease in taste perception, the fact that people tend to eat more when watching a movie or TV show (as they are wont to do on a flight), and just plain old boredom.

Your tray is meant to be recognizable

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Airline food is planned so that it is recognizable to the average passenger, particularly in economy class. The menu tends to consist of foods that most people will be willing to eat, even if it's not their favorite. As a result, international airlines also have different menus for different routes, so as to cater to different taste buds and cuisines from around the world.

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What is food on a plane called? ›

An airline meal, airline food, or in-flight meal is a meal served to passengers on board a commercial airliner. These meals are prepared by specialist airline catering services and normally served to passengers using an airline service trolley.

What was the first airplane food? ›

The first ever airline meal was served in 1919 on a Handley-Page flight from London to Paris. According to Travel + Leisure in 2017, selections at the time “typically included cold fried chicken, fruit salads and elegantly composed sandwiches, served in wicker baskets on the lightest chinaware servers could find.”

How old is aircraft food? ›

1919. The first airline meal is served on a Handley Page Transport flight from London to Paris.

What is the real reason why airplane food tastes so bad? ›

While flying, the altitudes are quite high. Most of the planes fly at an altitude of between 33, 000 to 42,000 feet. At this height, our brain cells react differently when it comes to taste buds and thus the food tastes bland or bad.

What do you call a plane waitress? ›

A flight attendant (traditionally known as an air hostess, stewardess, steward, or host) is a member of the aircrew aboard commercial flights, many business jets and some government aircraft.

How many meals on a 14 hour flight? ›

On this flight, which normally takes 14 to 15 hours, the airline is also likely to serve two major meals like lunch or supper and also a light snack with juices.

How long did it take to eat a plane? ›

The Cessna 150 took roughly two years to be "eaten", from 1978 to 1980. Lotito claimed not to suffer ill effects from his consumption of substances typically considered poisonous.

What do pilots eat before a flight? ›

I usually have an omelet for breakfast, and light options for lunch, like a salad or low-carbohydrate meal alternatives. For dinner, I like to eat lighter foods such as soup, meat, or fish. Best Travel Tip: Don't eat too much before the flight, but don't stay hungry either.

How long can airplane food last? ›

Under international food safety standards, airlines can freeze food for up to five days and still safely serve it to passengers.

How fresh is airplane food? ›

As opposed to popular belief, most airline food is not days-old prepackaged, frozen food. In actuality, Gate Gourmet prepares each dish within 24 hours of it landing on a passenger's tray table, meaning it is perfectly fresh.

What is the oldest airplane name? ›

Brief Description. Wilbur and Orville Wright spent four years of research and development to create the first successful powered airplane, the 1903 Wright Flyer. It first flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, with Orville at the controls.

What food is stinky on a plane? ›

Other foods that stink

So, let us review the list of common foods that are commonly agreed to smelly in close quarters: chili, clam chowder, any seafood, garlic, hard boiled eggs, and salade niçoise (tuna, eggs, dressing...don't get us started).

Is it rude to eat smelly food on a plane? ›

Avoid: Bringing pungent items.

This should really be rule No. 1, but the tray-table thing was so unnerving, we had to start there. Anyway, the First Commandment of plane eating is: Thou shalt not bring strong-smelling food on a plane.

Why do planes smell weird? ›

The distinct smell inside commercial airplanes is often attributed to jet fuel. During flight, commercial airplanes burn a mixture of jet fuel and oxygen in their engines to produce propulsion. When jet fuel burns, it creates odorous vapors that may enter the cabin. Commercial airplanes often suck in air from outside.

What is a person who flies a plane called? ›

pilot. noun. someone who flies an aircraft.

What are plane tips called? ›

A wing tip (or wingtip) is the part of the wing that is most distant from the fuselage of a fixed-wing aircraft.

What are people on a plane called? ›

Aircrew, also called flight crew, are personnel who operate an aircraft while in flight. The composition of a flight's crew depends on the type of aircraft, plus the flight's duration and purpose.

Can two pilots eat the same meal? ›

“The captain is responsible for ensuring that, wherever possible, the operating pilots eat different in-flight meals,” said a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson. “If both pilots request the same meal, the cabin crew must bring this to the attention of the captain who will approve or deny the request.”

How many pilots are on a 10 hour flight? ›

Generally, if the flight is longer than eight hours, a third pilot (second officer) is required onboard. That requirement may vary slightly between operators. While some airlines require a third pilot for flights longer than seven hours, others may extend it to 10 hours.

Can pilots eat the same meal while flying? ›

Pilots and co-pilots are advised not to eat the same meals when they are working. If something is wrong with the meal (like food poisoning), the other pilot will not be affected and can take over. The rule is not mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, but most airlines have their own rules about it.

Did planes fly faster before? ›

Flights are much slower today than they were two decades ago. Technological progress is supposed to speed things up—and yet, when we travel by plane, we're actually flying much more slowly than we were 25 years ago.

How fast has anyone gone in a plane? ›

The winner of our top 10 – the X-15! Number 1: North American X-15 This aircraft has the current world record for the fastest manned aircraft. Its maximum speed was Mach 6.70 (about 7,200 km/h) which it attained on the 3rd of October 1967 thanks to its pilot William J. “Pete” Knight.

Are planes faster now than 20 years ago? ›

But one of the most bizarre changes is that flights have actually gotten slower in recent years. For example, back in the 1970s, a flight from New York to Houston would take two hours and 37 minutes, but these days it will take three hours and 50 minutes.

What food to avoid before a flight? ›

Salty snacks such as chips are among the worse foods to consume before flying. With preservatives and high salt content, chips are tasty but can dehydrate the body and lead to bloating. As cabin pressure falls while flying, gas starts to expand and eating chips may result in more discomfort with gas.

Why can't pilots eat the same meal? ›

In order to limit the chance of pilots getting sick, separate meals are served to the pilot and co-pilot. In an interview of a Korean pilot conducted by CNN in the year 2012, it was revealed that pilots and co-pilots are served separate food to avoid food poisoning.

Why do pilots not eat the same meal? ›

An Aeroflot spokesperson confirmed its policy: “Meals for captains differ from those for the rest of the crew, as stipulated by sanitary regulations – this is a precaution against possible accidental food poisoning.” British Airways added: “The pilots do eat different meals.”

Why do pilots chew gum? ›

The "lucky" gum of pilots is a superstition perhaps based in the original product's unsubstantiated claim of preventing seasickness, but applied to flight airsickness. Chewing any type of gum is thought to promote equalizing pressure in the ears.

Why do people eat peanuts on planes? ›

Peanuts were a low cost fit for airlines and allowed them to cut back on extravagant meals. Delta Airlines, whose home state of Georgia is the number one producer of peanuts in the US, served peanuts, cheese, and crackers to passengers on flights when no meal was served [3].

Do pilots get sleepy? ›

Fatigue is particularly prevalent among pilots because of "unpredictable work hours, long duty periods, circadian disruption, and insufficient sleep". These factors can occur together to produce a combination of sleep deprivation, circadian rhythm effects, and 'time-on task' fatigue.

What do airlines do with uneaten food? ›

So what does happen to uneaten airline food? Some airlines allow flight attendants to eat untouched business or first class meals. But the majority of the time, they are either incinerated or dumped in a landfill.

What do airlines do with leftover food? ›

As well as saving yourself a bit of cash, asking for an extra plane meal could have environmental benefits. That's because if there's any fresh food left over at the end of a flight, it's simply thrown in the bin.

Do you get food on a 3 hour flight? ›

flights over 2 hours: a main meal. flights over 7 hours: a main meal and snack. flights over 12 hours: two main meals and a snack.

Is airplane food microwaved? ›

The ovens on an aircraft are specialized convection ovens with food heating using hot air. Microwaves are not used (although some early 747s did have them onboard). The meals are loaded on trays into the oven. Most meals take around 20 minutes to heat, and of course, they are heated and served in batches.

Is there baby food in flight? ›

Airline provided baby meals and child meals

Some airlines provide (on request only, at least 24 hours in advance ) special meals for babies and children. For babies under two this is usually pureed baby food. You cannot request anything else for this age. For children over two, you can request a children's meal.

What is Travelling for food called? ›

Food Tourism, a tasty way to travel. Byfoodandroad. Food tourism is a relatively new term, but there are already several definitions to describe it. In the same context, it is also common to find the terms Culinary Tourism and Gastronomy Tourism.

What is a flying menu? ›

Flyout Navigation is any page menu that visually generates submenus, objects, or links when website users hover their mouse over them. Flyout Navigation differs from regular dropdown menus, which involve clicking on an option in the menu.

What is buffet flying? ›

At a flying buffet, guests are served with portioned foods, generally finger food, which is distributed on trays by service staff. Queues at the buffet are avoided. This type of food service is ideal for receptions and event catering.

What is an airplane buffet? ›

Buffet is a kind of vibration caused by aerodynamic excitation, usually associated with separated (or turbulent) airflow. As the aircraft approaches stall, the airflow over the wing becomes turbulent and if it flows across the horizontal stabilizer, buffeting may occur.


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