There’s an old joke about restaurant meals, in which a curmudgeon grouses that “the food here is terrible…and the portions are so small!”
It’s a line that could easily apply to the eating experience on airlines: We all groused starting around 10 years ago when carrier after carrier announced they were dialing back our in-flight food options, but routinely airline food is considered to be pretty terrible anyway.
But some airlines are starting to have a re-think. United recently announced that they were returning snacks to economy class passengers (including the delightfully fresh-to-American-palates Dutch stroopwafel), and more and more websites are springing up to point out the high – and more often, low – lights of eating at 30,000 feet.
So we spoke to two of the experts in this (air) field: Marco ‘t Hart, who lets the commenters do the reviewing on his site AirlineMeals.net, and includes over 37,000 photos from 700 different airlines in all classes; and Nikos Loukas, whose InFlightFeed.com provides helpful tips (like how to order ahead) and personal reviews.
Marcos and Nikos both run their sites as hobbies, but for Marcos it started in 2001 when his mother wanted to know what he was eating on flights between his home in Holland to Turkey (where his girlfriend lived). He got more serious about the site over the next few years, and has had over 4 million visitors. Nikos kicked off his site in 2012 when he moved to Europe, and he’s worked in the airline industry for over 15 years. Nowadays he gets invited “around the world to sample airline meals with many airlines.”
Here’s what they had to say about the good, the bad, and the photographically ugly:
Is airline food as bad as everyone claims it is?
Marco: “There have been major improvements over the past couple of years. But don’t forget, it also depends on your flight class. In Business and First Class you will obviously get better food than in Economy.”
Nikos: “It’s always interesting to see what airlines try to offer us in flight. Things like break or deep fried items don’t work well. Curries always work really well!”
How does flight class affect quality?
Marco: “In Business and First Class, meals are prepared with a little more caution, different products, fresh ingredients, sometimes even cooked onboard in stead of an airport kitchen.” He adds that higher-class seats also get real plates, utensils and glasses. “All in all [this] contributes to the entire experience,” he says.
What US-based airlines offer the best food?
Marco: “JetBlue, American Airlines and Delta. Look at some of the photos and you can see. Quality [and] attention paid to food and presentation.”
Nikos: “JetBlue; their mint class meals are meant to be fantastic. Virgin America tends to use a lot of local produce, and really does try to make things tasty. American Airlines are really trying hard to offer better meals and more options. I’ve seen some sad meal pics from United Airlines, but other than that I haven’t heard many bad stories.” Internationally, Nikos recommends Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Swiss Airlines.
For reference, Travel + Leisure ranked Virgin America the best domestic airline and Emirates the best international airline for food in 2015.
What were your best and worst culinary experiences on an airline?
Marco: “On Vietnam Airlines, from Vietnam to Australia … it was one of my first flights in Business and First Class; it makes sense to say I was impressed. My personal worst, or weirdest, would be on an airline from Turkey – a dry white roll with a slice of cucumber on it. That was pretty strange.”
Nikos: “Turkish Airlines Economy class was just delicious. Singapore Airlines First Class was simply amazing. Air Asia’s meals were cheap but had zero taste and looked as though the meal was just thrown together.”