Inarguably there is no other place on earth humans routinely find themselves that is more unnatural than the inside of an airplane. Maybe because, much of the time, an airplane is nothing more than a reinforced steel cylinder hovering above earth. The air pressure greatly decreases, the ambient humidity drops to less than 20 percent, the running din of the engines drowns out anything below a certain decibel reading, as we are stuffed into rows of cramped seats with television screens less than 10-inches from our nose. No wonder the food, what there is left of airline food, tastes like total crap.
Beyond the obvious discomfort and inorganic conditions ever-present in air travel, there is something particular that happens to our sensory perception that makes food taste bland and lifeless at 35,000 feet. As the plane goes skyward, the change in the air pressure numbs about 1/3 of the taste buds in your mouth and the lack of humidity dries out your nasal passages leaving your two biggest taste receptors (your nose and taste buds) virtually as lifeless as the in-flight magazine.
Granted, the days of airline food of any consideration has all but dried up in favor of packaged snacks and demi-cans of soda. However, according to an article from The New York Times, the airline industry, which has been in steady decline for years now, is doing its best to improve its food offerings, at least for its elite class of passengers. While passengers in coach can still depend on the offerings being what they are for the foreseeable future (packaged cookies, nuts, and whatever the previous passenger left in the seat-back compartment), first-class and business-class passengers are a much larger investment for airlines, and will be rewarded accordingly. According to the story in the NYT, the motivation is obvious: business and first class account for about a third of all airline seats but generate a majority of the revenue. Keeping high-end customers is crucial to the bottom line.
The story exists as a pretty compelling account of the lengths businesses will go to attract an elite clientele (hiring top brand chefs, culinary experts, and sometimes, like in the case of Korean Air, controlling the ingredients put into each meal by raising their own beef, chickens and vegetables on a semi-organic farm) but I found the little details about how the airborne environment is utterly unfavorable to the culinary experience. This explains why airlines tend to over-salt and over-spice their food and serve wines that are insanely bold – because half of our mouth is effectively dead when consuming these things in flight. Because of this, more tomato juice is consumed above the earth than actually on earth; the taste is just more palatable and mild up in the sky.
Have you experienced a deadening of your senses while in flight? Do items that would normally be satisfying seem utterly bland and lifeless? What do you routinely pack/bring to eat or snack upon when flying the friendly, tasteless skies?
Related: The Sickening Truth of Airline Food