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What do we really want to eat on a flight?

British Airways have recently added the traditional favourite fish and chips to their menu for short-haul flights. It’s a bold move but it remains to be seen whether it will successfully change the impression that many of us have of airline food. The meals we get on flights are one of those things that we all like to have a grumble about from time to time on our holidays, but what is the quality of aeroplane food really like and what changes could be made to improve the situation? We consulted two leading travel writers, Erin Bender and Matthew Long, to get their take on things.

What are your general experiences with airline food?

Erin Bender: Usually airline meals are pretty bland and uninspiring. But even eating a decent meal in a cramped environment like a plane can never be ideal.

Matthew Long: Like anyone else’s, they’re not that great. Airlines tend to best when they stay simple. Lufthansa offers snacks in Economy class that are decent because they’re simple things like sandwiches, pizza and sausages. When airlines try to deliver very high-end cuisine at 36,000 feet, it rarely ends well.

Is there a best or worst meal that sticks out in your memory?

EB: Occasionally we’ve been surprised with a pleasant experience such as a flight with Emirates (from Dubai to Perth). On top of that, they even provided metal knives and forks – wow! It was nice being treated like an adult again.

ML: Not particularly, but I do love when airlines offer Business class snack bars on long haul flights. Air France, Cathay Pacific and South African Airways all do this and it’s a nice perk. Breakfast meals are never good on a plane. The eggs are always disgusting and the assemblage of meat, tomatoes and eggs in one small container is always vile.

Would the choice of food from an airline encourage you to fly with them rather than a competitor?

EB: Usually the cost of food compared to the actual flight is relatively small, so I can’t imagine we’d pay a lot more for a decent meal. We’d be more likely to just bring our own food and snacks for the flight. But I do say we are pleasantly surprised these days to find airlines that still offer meals.

ML: If an airline promised to stay away from doing too much, instead promising simple but tasty meals I would consider it. More often than not though, it’s just a tertiary concern.

What would you do to improve airline cuisine?

EB: I’ve read that altitude plays around with our tastebuds, effectively numbing them, so airlines are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to flavour. And I’m not sure how an airline will solve the cramped space issue. But maybe just having a few more chicken meals available will be a good start – so they don’t run out after just a few meals have been dished out.

ML: Keep it simple. Rely upon simple foods that people like. Sandwiches, pizza, burgers all work just fine on planes.

It seems like BA have moved in the right direction by offering a meal choice that’s simple, familiar and comforting… but if our interviewees’ comments are anything to go by, perhaps they should have gone for pizzas or burgers. However, if airlines really want to make passengers happy with their new offering of fish and chips, maybe they should be serving it as a breakfast option! It seems that’s the in-flight meal that can leave travellers least satisfied.

Then again, we can’t have airline food getting too good. You wouldn’t want it to take the shine off the delicious meals that you can enjoy while on holiday!

In-flight meal photo by Ra Boe and used pizza photo by Nova, both used under Wikimedia creative commons agreement.