Before You Book Your Next Flight, Learn The Truth About Airline Food

On your next flight, it’s highly likely that you will eat a meal, enjoy a beverage, or both. After all, you’re stuck on a plane with limited options and some food and beverages are offered to passengers for free. This list, however, may have you thinking twice about what you’ll consume en route to your destination. Where does airplane food even come from? How is it stored? We’ve got the info, and by the way– you’ll never drink another cup of coffee on a flight again– even if it is complimentary.

Who Chooses Which Food Is Served?

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Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images
Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

Airline meals are prepared by experts. Some companies even hire famous chefs, who prepare the menu according to the route and the local cuisine. The dishes are chosen up to a year ahead of time, so they are tested and the prices analyzed.

In relation to production, many foods are prepared daily for flights. Some airlines produce around 150,000 meals a day! Are you more impressed with your airline meals now?

Food Keeps Passengers Entertained

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Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Flights can be long, and not always comfortable. Since the beginning of commercial flights, airlines have tried their best to keep their passengers satisfied and entertained. Part of this entertainment is food!

Everybody loves food, and it also helps to pass time for passengers who didn’t bring a book or something to keep themselves occupied. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into getting the food to the passengers onboard, however.

Where Is The Food Made?

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Horst Galuschka/picture alliance via Getty Images
Horst Galuschka/picture alliance via Getty Images

Obviously, airplanes don’t have a kitchen and staff on board. So where does the airline food come from? The food is prepared around ten hours before the flight at a location close to the airport. Once the meal is ready-to-go, it’s vaccuum packed to keep it fresh.

Airline food is stored in a fridge compartment on the plane at a low temperature until it’s popped in the electric oven that’s specially designed for airplanes.

Food Can Get Thrown Out If Your Flight Is Delayed

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LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

In the case of flight delays, there is a tolerance limit for meals to be served to passengers. If they exceed the established deadline, they are discarded, so as not to run the risk of passengers having food poisoning. Because no one wants food poisoning, especially while traveling!

As for beverages, they are already chilled for airplanes in most cases. But most aircraft have refrigerators that can cool products very quickly if plans change.

The Flight Can Affect The Taste Of Food

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Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

It’s common for passengers to complain about the taste of food served by airlines. But this has an explanation! Air travel can influence taste buds. This means that the food eaten on board is likely to taste differently.

According to a study by Cornell University, very loud noises such as a flying plane, for example, can affect our taste, causing some flavors to intensify, while with others, the very opposite occurs. Next time you think your in-flight meal tastes a little bland, this could be why!

The Wine Is Not Always Worth It

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Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yep, just as your food may taste differently while 30,000 feet in elevation, so will your wine. While flying, wine tends to taste sourer. Airlines try to compensate for this effect by selecting wines that are less acidic than average.

For this reason, the best time to drink wine on the flight would be as close to take-off as possible, before the elevation effect kicks in. Those first-class passengers who are served their bubbly once seated really do have the advantage on this one!

Beware of Alcoholic Beverages

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Rosario Scalia/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images
Rosario Scalia/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images

For some people, alcoholic beverages can help them relax during a flight. But be very careful! Studies show that the effects of alcohol are heightened when we are flying. The reason is simple: alcohol is dehydrating.

To make matters worse, the air in the cabin is very dry, which causes dehydration to occur much more quickly. They say that one dose on land is two in the air. So take it easy and be sure to drink lots of water.

The Coffee is Pretty Disgusting

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Ncolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Ncolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s best not to drink any water that didn’t come from a water bottle on a plane. Trust us on this one. But why? The water that is used to make coffee and tea is located directly next to the water source for the toilets on the aircraft.

Maintenance crews quickly work on both at the same time between flights, so unless you’re comfortable with the chance of the bacteria from the bathroom water lines getting crossed up with the beverage water lines…. yeah, it’s best to just stay away from the coffee and tea.

Pilots Have Food Restrictions

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Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images
Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images

Getting sick from a meal is bad for anyone, but if the pilots get sick, it’s bad for everyone. To prevent both the captain and the co-pilot from getting sick, and leaving no one to operate the airplane, there are certain rules they must follow.

The captain and the co-pilot must eat different meals while manning the aircraft. That way, if the food is spoiled, only one of them ends up getting sick, while the other is okay with whatever secondary option they ate.

The Importance of Umami

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Jeff Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images
Jeff Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

Umami is one of the five basic tastes of the human palate and, unlike the sweet and savory, it is not affected by the flight. It is usually found in foods such as spinach and tomatoes, so it is common for these foods to be served by airlines with some frequency.

To combat the loss of taste and smell, some companies have chosen to spice up food, as is the case with American Airlines, which adds a greater amount of salt to their dishes.

Things Taste Sweeter at 10,000 Feet

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Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

As we mentioned earlier, tomato juice is a popular choice in air travel. The drink is supposed to taste sweeter during the flight, making the Bloody Mary drink even tastier.

This theory is backed by researchers at Cornell University. The study found that Bloody Mary’s, the drink made with tomato juice, vodka and seasoning tastes much better when drunk at 30,000 feet. That’s because umami-rich foods like tomatoes, get more pronounced.

Don’t Order Diet Coke

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Etienne DE MALGLAIVE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Etienne DE MALGLAIVE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

If you are a fan of Diet Coke, you probably already have noticed something different. An ingredient in the sugar-free Coca-Cola formula makes gas refrigerant even more powerful when the plane reaches 30,000 feet.

Have you noticed that stewardesses take longer to refill a glass of light soda compared to other drinks? This is because you have to wait for the gas to come out of the drink before filling the glass. Now imagine all that gas fermenting inside your stomach! Better order another drink, huh?

Surveys Show These Are The Best Airlines For Food

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ALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP/Getty Images
ALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP/Getty Images

According to Luxury Travel Expert, the best airline food is offered by Austrian Airlines. The company offers plentiful and neat trays even in economy class. The onboard service of the Austrian company offers options such as chicken with herbs, grilled fish, or lamb fillet, depending on the route.

Following Austrian Airlines, the highest rated for airline food are Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. Have you noticed higher quality while flying with one of these airlines?

No Raw Food

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Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Do not expect to eat anything raw inside the plane. Even while flying first class, it is difficult to find food like shellfish. This is because it can be difficult to work with raw food during the flight and companies value the safety and health of their passengers.

The main goal is to avoid the risk of food poisoning. That would be bad for both the passenger and the airline.

Other Foods To Avoid

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Lucas Schifres/ Getty Images
Lucas Schifres/ Getty Images

Indeed, some dishes do not withstand flight conditions either because of the airborne pressure or because of other factors. This includes most Japanese cuisine, which can spoil more easily.

Also, airlines do not usually work with fish that have thorns and avoid using boned meats. What if someone were to choke on a fish bone mid-flight? That would be a disaster. The airlines always play it safe when it comes to the food options they serve to passengers.

Know What Food To Order Before You Fly

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Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Curious as to what food will be served on your next flight? Do your research on www.inflightfeed.com where you can find photos and reviews of meals served by different airlines. The blog is managed by Australian traveler Nik Loukas, who has visited more than 60 countries.

Loukas says he got the idea while on the job. “I worked for an airline and the most frustrating thing for our customers was not knowing what to eat on board, or what they could buy to eat on board. So I thought maybe a site with air meal information could be a good resource and a good source of information for passengers.”

Special Food

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Aviation-images.com/UIG via Getty Images
Aviation-images.com/UIG via Getty Images

Flight Center estimates that 10% of airline food is special, meaning that it meets the nutritional needs of passengers. And you do not pay a penny more for it. “Special” meals are usually served to anyone who has food restrictions, but anyone can request it. These meals are also available because of the religious factor.

Who knew that airlines could be so accommodating to their passengers? All you have to do is order ahead of time.

But How Do You Order It?

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Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

These special meals are only shipped upon prior request. It is therefore recommended that passengers contact the airline at least 48 hours in advance. Thus, you will have your meal assured even if you have some sort of food restriction.

Some of the “special meal” options offered by the airlines include vegetarian, Hindu, Halal, Kosher, Diabetics, Low Calories, Low Protein, Lactose-Free, Gluten Free, Low Cholesterol and Low Sodium. That’s quite a lot of options!

The Food Simulation Test

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Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Catering services often do a lot of testing on their food. In Singapore, companies who create ready-to-eat meals submit the dishes for testing in aerial simulation booths, where food is made and tested under conditions of low atmospheric pressure.

This is mainly because many foods change their taste during the flight due to altitude and noise. With the simulation, companies can adjust the dishes according to changes that they detect “in the air”.

The Kids’ Menu

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Jessica McGowan/Getty Images
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Some airlines go further and offer a special menu for children. And the parents thank them for it! Singapore Airlines, for example, has a personalized menu for the little ones. Younger passengers can make a choice on the menu, which features fish fingers and also macaroni and cheese. That sounds pretty good!

There’s no doubt that parents appreciate the airlines serving up something that kids won’t put up a fight to eat.