What's Hot and What's Not in Airline Food

What’s Hot in In-Flight Food?

What’s hot in airline food? Not much – not in coach, anyway.

Sure, you can get your cold sandwiches and lukewarm salads – for a price – but now that Continental is stopping its last free-hot-meal-in-coach “passenger perk” at the end of the week, hot food in steerage is a thing of the past.

Meaning, cold “for purchase” food is here to stay.

First Airline Meal Served in 1919

We’ve come full circle, I suppose – since it all started with cold food.

That’s right: 91 years ago this month, Britain’s Handley Page Transport – an early airline – served the first airline meal. They were “boxed lunches” but no one seems to remember what they included though I’m sure there was a sandwich made out of that era’s mystery meat.

Airlines and Mystery Meat

But face it – no one ever much cared for airline food until it was gone – which reminds me of a review I saw on an airline meal review site (the wonders of the web) in which a passenger described his meal this way: “[The] cracker was the highlight of the meal! I have no idea what was in the puff pastry. It was meat based, but other than that, it’s anybody’s guess!”

In defense of the airlines, I should point out that taste deteriorates in a pressurized cabin at 30,000 feet. In his essay on airline meals in the book, “Food for Thought”, Dr. Guillaume de Syon wrote that, “the result is that human organs, especially the digestive system, swell, and the ability to taste is limited.” How…appetizing.

Where’s the Beef?

Where’s the good food? In first and business class. Of course, it could cost you a couple of thousand dollars more than your coach ticket to try it.

And, even there, they have hits and misses, but more success stories. No surprise, really – not since so many celebrity chefs have invaded the cabins (at least in a consulting capacity). Here are a couple of popular offerings from American Airlines: “Macadamia nut chicken with pineapple papaya marmalade” and “Rosemary-scented shrimp drizzled with garlic sauce served with lemon rice and artichokes” – and they do sound good.

Airline Cookbook

I suppose this was to be expected – an airline has published a cookbook. Sounds like a joke, right? But we are talking about Singapore Airlines, the creme de la creme. Recipes include Crab Curry Patta, which involves coconut and mint chutney and is no doubt quite tasty.

Unfortunately, as I noted, if you mostly fly domestic – and coach – you may never find out (unless you get the cookbook and head for the stove). But, really, things could be worse.

Yes, It Could be Worse

It’s like comedian Louie C.K. (Louis Szekely) said in a riff on airline passengers; he thinks most of us don’t understand what a miracle of transportation flight really is: “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky.”

Just remember that, next time you dream of hearing flight attendants chanting, “chicken or beef” as you sit in that cramped middle seat and rip open that stale pack of peanuts.

Better yet, forget the peanuts and pack your own food.

More from Rick Seaney:

Best and Worst Airline Food

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Published: October 6, 2010