airplane food

Unpopular opinion: Airplane food isn’t that bad

Some people stand when the plane lands and others find that idiotic and annoying. Some people prefer to carry on and others prefer to check their bags. There are a lot of individual differences in travel habits and preferences. The one thing that is almost universally agreed upon is that airline food is disgusting. But is it? I happen to think airplane food isn’t that bad, and I think all of you are full of shit.

People say airline food is gross for the same reason they say Taco Bell gives them the runs. It’s a food that has such a bad rap that you have to justify to others that you had it. It’s the thing to say about it. But if Taco Bell really made you sick, you wouldn’t be craving it after a late night out; you’d be pretty averse to it (trust me, I haven’t had Peruvian food in 3 years). And if you thought airline food was disgusting, you wouldn’t be eating that shit up when it’s put in front of you. It’s not like you paid for it.

Yet when those trays go back into the trash cart, they’re always at least half eaten. And it’s because airplane food is not that bad. Most people who complain about airplane food make Stauffer’s frozen pasta dinners when they’re feeling lazy and eat expired cookies from Big Lots cause they were on sale. So spare us the dramatics about the mashed potatoes on your flight.


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The airline food staples

The thing about airline food is that most of it is non-perishable stuff that isn’t even heated. Airlines universally provide some kind of crackers and a bread roll with cheese and butter, and don’t pretend like you haven’t made dinner out of crackers, cheese, and wine. So even without opening the warm meal, what they’re serving you is moderately acceptable. Then there’s a salad, which a lot of people are prickly about, but which is no different than getting a premade salad at the grocery store or eating from the salad bar at a buffet. At least the airline salad was kept refrigerated.

In addition to your individually-packed sides, you’ll be given two options for your hot meal. The majority of the time, one of these is vegetarian by default because it’s pasta. If you’ve ever microwaved a Trader Joe’s pasta meal, you can sit down with your bitching cause it’s the same damn thing – a frozen meal that’s reheated right before serving. The other is usually chicken and rice or beef and noodles or any kind of combination of really basic dining staples that are easy to reheat without losing their texture. Finally there’s some kind of dessert, which ranges from ice cream to strudel to the occasional fudge brownie – all things you can find in your own pantry for when you’re cheating on your keto diet.

Are all your in-flight meals gonna be edible? Probably not. But I’ve had some shitty restaurant food, too. I’ve been served moldy bread and half-frozen casserole and soggy burgers. But I don’t go around saying that restaurant food is disgusting. It’s a generalization that makes no sense. Just like saying airplane food sucks makes no sense, especially when almost everything on an airline tray is pretty standard and basic. I mean, who hates bread, butter, and free wine?

Where does airline food come from?

Perhaps a good way to unravel the mystery of airline food is to learn a little bit about how where it comes from and how it’s made. Airline food is catered by on-ground chefs who prepare your single-serving meals up to 10 hours in advance. Given the erratic schedule of flights, this requires chefs to work 24/7. Your meal is cooked part of the way through and then finished cooking on board in a convection oven (NOT a microwave!). So this is probably exactly the same kind of food that you pay caterers $100 a plate to serve at your wedding. It’s just served in less appealing dinnerware. But trust me, you’ve had that same side salad at someone’s classy reception.

airplane food
This in-flight menu was actually better than some of the food I’ve had at weddings.

Like leftovers you’d reheat at home, your food isn’t sitting there growing bacteria before it’s served; it’s refrigerated at a very low temperature, which is why your bread always feels like it’s frozen. (Pro-tip: Put your bread and butter on top of your hot meal to warm it up before eating it).

There’s a lot that sucks about flying, so in the grand scheme of things airplane food isn’t so awful. Find something else to complain about. Like people putting their heavy coats in the overhead bin, those inconsiderate savages.


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