Decent, Copacetic, Quite Alright, Not Not Good: Airline Meals

Have you ever tried to recreate what you’ve eaten on a plane?  Or, have employees at a flight catering company ever collectively released a cookbook?…would you buy it?

This is the burning question on the mind, my mind, for this first of probably a staggered series of posts about airline meals.  Is it fair to say that, unless you’re flying in business or first class, or in any class with Turkish Airlines, you shouldn’t expect much in terms of quality, quantity and taste?  Does the economy class traveler who scored a very low-fare deserve to be fed at all, let alone get an extra olive in his/her salad when feeding does takes place?  And how about those allergic passengers- what if someone is allergic to everything but peanuts?  Apple cider and black licorice are no-gos for me, so what if someone booked me on a flight in autumn on Halloween Air?  Troubling, indeed.

Clearly, there is no dearth of questions to ask when it comes to this (in the grand scheme of life’s things none too integral) topic.  Just as apparent, the above are all burning questions.

In general, if you’re flying a domestic route in the USA and you’re in economy class, don’t expect free grub.  More and more, US airlines are opting into the buy-on-board method, just as many LCCs (low-cost carriers; ie, Air Asia and easyjet) have been doing for years.  However, if I’m seated next to someone munching on Wendy McDonald King’s, that flight attendant call button will be pushed so quickly… not to mention, you may have a hunch about certain flights that are going to carry a just as unpleasant aroma-  Garlic for Eastern Europe and the Korean Peninsula, toddler-brand human spray for Orlando, cigarette smoke for China and Egypt, and KFC for Japan– for starters.  Don’t feel so bad though, back-of-the-busians, as US air carriers don’t necessarily serve full meals in the front (or on top?) of the plane either.

For this first edition of BuildingMyBento presents airline meals, “shining a light on what you don’t want to see,” I bring you a few superlative meals from past flights on airlines from the US and elsewhere:

The As Bad as a Middle Seat


American Airlines, Miami, USA to La Paz, Bolivia.  Didn’t realize I ordered the number five lunch special.  You know, the one that comes with whipped hair gel and frozen tomatoes.  The decentest (somehow that’s a word) looking entrant on this try is the Land o’ Lakes butter packet, perfect for those sub-zero bread packets.  It’s important to note that, unlike the previous two AA flights, this one had a working armrest.

The Actually Good


Asiana Airlines, Seoul to Frankfurt.  Korean food is too good, too well-rounded, too much of a sight for sore eyes.  If I could order that cuisine on any flight (whether I pay for it on-board or have it already included), new airline loyalty will be fostered.  This particular meal is 쌈밥 ssambap, where ssam= wrapped and bap=rice is included.  In this case, it was lettuce (it often is) with peppers and pork, soup, a packet of kimchi, and gochujang.  Miso paste and fishlets (it’s not a word, but it should be) are in the back, right by the nicely varied container of fruit.  That better not be an olive on top of the cantaloupe (olives are great, but not in conjunction with a bite of cantaloupe).  The note resting atop the soup gives instructions to us non-Korean dolts who didn’t realize that the plastic is inedible.

The Weird


Northwest, Tokyo to Hong Kong.  Apologies for the blurriness, but it helps set the tone.  Besides the fact that Northwest doesn’t really exist anymore, upon tearing the cover off of the carbohydrate-rich entrée, two julienned capsicum, I mean red pepper slivers joined forces to spell out my first initial.  Which is more plausible, that, or that I did that because I knew eight years later I’d be writing about it?  Oh sorry, did you expect me to include the Pyongyang-Beijing meal in this category?

The Weird in an Odd Way


Thai Airways International, Los Angeles, USA to Bangkok.  Never mind that the flight was too long, but what is going on in that photo?  I recognize Carr’s crackers (good choice), and monterey jack cheese, and even the papaya and grapes, but something that color green is either A) sourced locally from the San Onofre power plant or 2) a Thai dessert.  Considering that it was a Thai airline, I’ll give them partial credit.  Also, what’s for dinner?  Golden raisins, cornichons in a korma sauce and a bowl of kielbasa?  Moreover, what’s with the overly generous supply of mushrooms?

What have your most memorable airline meals been?

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8 Responses to Decent, Copacetic, Quite Alright, Not Not Good: Airline Meals

  1. expatlingo says:

    I too have suffered through many bland meals on Northwest Airlines to Asia (where only the ice burg lettuce and piece of cheese were edible)… Happily (?) my daughter is a celiac so now we often pack along lots and lots of our own snacks and food (If you thought the regular meals, were bad, I’ve seen hell and it is a gluten-free airplane meal).

    I think my best meals have been on Air India (where they also serve two beers at once!) and Turkish Air.

    • Special meals will form part of a future post:) Do you find Cathay Pacific and other East Asian-airlines good letting you pre-order gluten-free meals (even if the meal isn’t…good?)
      Not that I expect something delicious on the average flight- but receiving something in the first place is a good start!
      Ah, so you’ve had decent eats on Turkish as well. Their service is mainland-esque, but at least they have edible food.

      • expatlingo says:

        We pre-ordered a gluten free meal on Cathay Pacific when flying from London to Hong Kong. She wouldn’t touch it, but it did arrive with a smile!

        We flew China Southern to Hangzhou and I didn’t bother asking (but maybe I should have just to see). Our other intra-Asian flights since her diagnosis have been on Air Asia…

  2. : ] Hrm, let’s see if I can recall this correctly. Worst: Iberia en route to SAN from Barcelona. It was like tapas gone wrong. Best I think it’s a tie: Sri Lankan Airlines from HKG en route to BKK. Great food and free alcohol for all five of us riding on the plane (Colombo is now on my list of places to visit probably even before India) and the first meal served on JAL en route to NRT. Yes, Japan had me at it’s first in-flight meal.

  3. Eric says:

    SONG or Son Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. I work there :).

  4. Adam says:

    whipped hair gel? I think I’d rather have a complimentary meal than pay 5.95 for the asian noodle salad I tried on United LAX to IAD

  5. Pingback: Event Review: The 2016 Great Big Bacon Picnic (Brooklyn, New York) | buildingmybento


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