Is Food Served From Airlines Really That Bad?

Posted on Sep 3 2019 - 9:08am by Editorial Staff

What is your favourite food? Is it a Chinese, Bolognese, Pizza. Perhaps you enjoy fish and chips or maybe a roast dinner keeps you happy.

No matter what your favorite food is, airline versions of it tend to never be up to scratch. No matter how much you love a full English breakfast, a ‘fry-up’ served in a plastic tray with a sip of orange juice in a carton and a little packet of disposable cutlery and wipes might not quite touch the sides.

But why does airline food stink so bad? Why are train food trolleys so expensive? How come cruise ships manage to serve up great food? We’re here to answer all of those questions, so join us on our virtual travels…

Food on the train

Meals served from the trolley can be pretty poor. Unless you’re travelling in first class, crisps and biscuits and dry sandwiches are about all you can expect from train travel. And that’s if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your view), as many services have axed their on-board trolley services.

It’s apparent comes down to a lack of a lack of sustainability,  but It’s probably more the lack of business. There’s simply no reason to pay so much for a sandwich or packet of crisps on-board the train when the same, if not better, food exists a throwing distance from the train at a slightly lower price. Train stations are filled to the brim with all kinds of outlets, and it’s not just Burger King and WHSmith on offer now. For many of us, it’s no trouble to pack our own food and bring that with us or grab something on the way to the platform.

If you’re travelling via first class, you can be expect to served a selection of snacks and drinks along with a potential complimentary menu on some days. But as the Telegraph posits, the array of food often doesn’t come to much, and when you consider the price difference between a standard and a first-class ticket, you’re technically paying for the food you’re eating and then some. In fact, The Tab’s Annie Lord tried to make a profit from her £49.00 first-class ticket via eating and drinking the complementary food. Two polystyrene cups of hot drinks, six gin and tonics, one apple juice, one Pepsi, one cake, one bag of nuts, a bag of crisps, a piece of fruit, a salad, and a few snacks later, Annie made a profit of £5.65. A victory?

Food on the sea

Cruises tend to not be as popular as flying, so perhaps this is the reason we don’t hear many poor reviews of food served on them. Or perhaps it is because space isn’t so much an issue on a ferry as it is on a plane or train — you tend to find a good array of restaurants and food services on a ferry. The quality isn’t so much an issue as the price, with many advocating taking your own food with you in order to avoid the ever-present expense of travel-based food.

Food on the plane

Back to the real problem.  Indeed, the questionable meat floating in a generic gravy waiting to be poked at with the disposable cutlery provided. 

It’s very questionable that we can somehow sent messages to the other side of the world within a blink of an eye, but we can’t cook good meals in the sky yet. We’ve not only sent men to the moon, we presumably fed them on the way there and back. How hard can it really be?

If there’s any kind of sympathy we can give, is that the food served on a plane is being cooked in such a cramped space which would make it difficult to contend with. The largest independent airline food provider makes 685,000 meals every day, says The Guardian, giving a whole new meaning to ‘fast food’. So it’s not that airlines don’t have the capacity to serve pomegranate-glazed lamb or chilled prawns with an aioli tarragon sauce. In fact, back in the 1950s, before the dawn of flight classes, meals were ridiculously flashy, with charcuteries featuring in the aisles of the then-smaller planes.

Later on, it came about that the airlines had to charge the same for the same route. So, then it occurred to airline businesses that they could split flight classes and offer this lovely grub to the first class flyers, and less-expensive food (or none at all) to economy class. Even with technology like sous-vide allowing for food to be vacuum-sealed and slow-cooked to keep it tasty even when cooked in the air, technological advancements in airline food don’t often filter down to economy class plates.

So really, the quality of airline food is a selling point. The huge variation between economy class food and first class is designed to encourage people to want to pay more and upgrade their seat. For those with frequent flyer points, many choose to spend their points on seat upgrades rather than a free ticket, and as Business Insider notes, a flight costs an airline more than fancy food does.

So in a nutshell, airline food doesn’t need to be, nor is it really awful. You just need to pay a lot more to get a ticket for a spacious seat and a larger drink than those tiny cans of single-mouthful Colas.


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Editorial Staff at I2Mag is a team of subject experts.