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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Airline Food

Airline food

A history of the airline meal

To recognize how meager today’s domestic airline food offerings are, we have to look to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when airlines served complimentary meals on domestic flights.

Yes, even flights as short as Boston to Chicago. (This, of course, was incomparable to the 1950s and 1960s, which was dubbed the “golden age of air travel,” when multi-course meals and alcohol were served on board to economy fliers.)

In the aftermath of 9/11, the industry took a devastating financial hit, and most airlines had to slash costs wherever necessary. One of the first things they cut back on was in-flight meal service.


Over the past decade of air travel, food waste from airlines has increased significantly as they work hard to improve their culinary offerings. Join us as we delve into the culinary world of commercial airline food and gourmet private jet charter meals.

Food for thought

Each year food waste is buried in landfills and dumped in the world’s oceans, a problem that’s gone sky-high – literally.

According to The Guardian, in 2016 airline passengers created 5.2 million tonnes of waste, a number that’s predicted to double over the next 15 years.

Plastic and glass waste, food containers, and miniature wine bottles. For example, make up a significant amount of the total pollution; but leftover and uneaten food also plays a big role.

Airline food

Airline food: tasty or tasteless?

Commercial airlines have to contend with several factors in their quest to serve delicious yet cost-effective in-flight meals. Including reduced air pressure, recirculated air, and altitude.

At high altitudes where humidity is low, our taste buds dry out and flavors weaken. So historically airlines have served extra salty and spicy food to counteract this loss of taste.

While airline food often has a reputation for being bland and unappetizing. The world’s biggest airlines are working hard to better satisfy their passengers’ taste buds.

Virgin Airways recently employed celebrity chef Luke Mangan to revamp the plane food on its Australian wing. While a number of other airlines have turned to Michelin Starred chefs to improve theirs in-flight culinary offerings.

Airline food


As well as their luxurious interiors and reduced journey times.
Private jet charters are known for offering passengers an elevated dining experience, both literally and figuratively.

Private jet flight attendants go to great lengths to prepare meals and snacks to accommodate their discerning clientele, including researching dining trends and guest preferences.

Passengers on private jets can choose delicious, high-quality airline food from a tailor-made menu that caters to all needs. So whether you’re gluten, lactose, or dairy intolerant, vegan or vegetarian.

You can still delve into your favorite Italian, French and intercontinental dishes while in transit. Popular choices include meat boards, fruit trays, and sushi, all paired with the perfect glass of wine, Champagne, or soft drink.

The growth of the aviation industry and private jet travel has led to an in-flight cuisine renaissance in recent years. Dining has become such an integral part of the private jet charter experience.

That many customers today request an onboard chef to freshly prepare their meals. On flights where a chef can’t be present, detailed instructions are left for trained flight attendants to replicate the gourmet creations.

AN Aviation Services Co. can accommodate a range of catering requests for our clients. Whether you want a celebratory banquet or an exotic delicacy, contact us and one of our dedicated account managers will arrange a bespoke private jet handling accompanied by the perfect in-flight meal.

Airline food

Halal food

For several Islamic and Middle Eastern airlines, in accordance with Islamic customs, all classes and dishes on the plane are served a Muslim meal with Halal certification – without pork and alcohol.

While Emirates, Etihad Airways, Oman Air, and Qatar Airways provide bottles of wine to non-Muslim passengers, the cabin crew does not deliver alcoholic beverages lest they violate Islamic customs, unless those non-Muslim passengers specifically request it.

Turkish Airlines does not serve any meals with pork or lard, but especially during international flights, a variety of alcoholic beverages are served upon request.

Because Iran and Saudi Arabia apply strict Sharia regulations, those countries’ airlines, e.g. Iran Air, Mahan Air, and Saudi Airlines, do not deliver pork or alcoholic beverages, and all airlines flying to or from Iran or Saudi Arabia are prohibited from serving either.

However, Garuda Indonesia serves alcoholic beverages (whiskey, beer, champagne, and wine) upon request.

How are meals prepared?

Meals are usually prepared on the ground in catering facilities close to the airport and are then transported to the aircraft and placed in refrigerators for flight attendants to heat and serve on board.

The caterers are more like the middlemen that help airlines mass-produce thousands of meals a day; the airline’s catering team is usually responsible for menu design.
Given the number of airlines (both domestic and international) that serve food on board, there’s some overlap between who the three major catering groups work with.

The meals (and the aircraft ovens used to heat them) are designed so that the food isn’t severely affected by the change in altitude and pressure. Airline chefs or catering groups usually provide instructions for the cabin crew on how to heat and even plate the food.

Most airline meals contain a lot of sodium, since people’s taste perception changes in the air.