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Believe it or not, airlines have been dishing up in-flight food for almost a century, with what is widely considered to be varying degrees of success. Back in 1919, the first ever in flight meal was served on a flight between London and Paris. Now, thanks to the introduction of budget airlines, you might find food is firmly off the menu should you fly the same route, depending on which airline you are travelling with, of course.

To help all of you lucky people who are packing suitcases and jetting off on holiday this this summer, we’re taking a little look at the best and worst airline food and asking: how good can we really expect airline food to be?

The good, the bad and the ugly

Although no one study has looked at food quality alone to rate airlines, several polls have cited budget airline Ryanair as the worst performer with food playing a part in its poor position. In a recent poll by Which? Ryanair was rated as the worst short haul airline and factored into its low charting was its one star food rating. In the longhaul category, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines come joint first with a customer score of 87 per cent. Both were praised for food and drink provision as well as value for money. Down at the bottom of the table, Iberia was another flight operator to clock up a miserable one-star rating for food and drink.

A separate survey by TripAdvisor again found Ryanair to be Brits’ least favourite airline, though to be fair, it hardly claims its toasties and tubes of Pringles are of a gourmet standard.

How can you guarantee good in flight food?

While there’s no winning formula for ensuring the food presented to you in-flight doesn’t taste as plastic as the tray it is served on, many regular flyers claim that selecting special meals such as vegetarian or gluten-free options seems to improve the quality of food served. There doesn’t seem to be any scientific reason behind this.

What’s perhaps a more pertinent question is how to guarantee your food is good value for money. On full service flights and longhaul flights in particular you’ll usually enjoy a number of meals, snacks and even alcoholic drinks at no extra cost. However, if you’re flying on a budget airline you can expect to pay premium for even the simplest of items. Research conducted by Travelsupermarket last year found that snack items were marked up by as much as 924 per cent!

Who’s really doing in-flight food best?

If you’re flying soon or about to select who you fly with, you might want to take a look at airlinemeals.net where passengers post pictures of their food, much of which looks surprisingly appetising. Perhaps we are swayed by the presence of all those clever little plastic pots, trays and other packaging the grub is presented in?

How good can we expect airline food to taste?

While we don’t doubt that everyone has had his or her own experiences with frightening or fantastic in-flight food, you do have to ask yourself how good can we expect it to be? Science suggests that items that would taste tantalising on the ground can be less than appetising when scoffed as you soar. Research conducted at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP in Holzkirchen revealed that salt tastes twenty to thirty per cent less intense up in the air. Futhermore, sugar is fifteen to twenty per cent less ‘sugary’. "In the air, food and drink tastes as it does when we have a cold,” Dr. Andrea Burdack-Freitag says, explaining the effects of reduced pressure on our taste buds. In contrast, fruity aromas and acids remain more stable, which means Asian dishes might be safe selection and fish and poultry dishes require more seasoning.

While clever packaging, better heating equipment and careful menu selection now gives in-flight food a better chance of tasting palatable, airplane food may well ultimately be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to perception.

Have you eaten some truly fantastic or frightening airline food recently? What was one the menu in your best or worst airline meal?


Lockhart Catering on 7 August 2014 8:38 AM

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