Better Tasting Airline Food for the 1 Percent

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 Ė 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


Kiana S.
Kiana S5 years ago

So that's why everything tastes weird in an airplane! I've always noticed it, but was never clear on the science. I have, unfortunately had a lot of airplane food in my time. I've lived in the UK for the past 9 years, but most of my family is in California and I try to visit about once a year. They do give you more than pretzels on such long flights, but I can't usually get most of it down because it usually isn't very nice. I do always drink tomato juice though, so good call on that one Eric!

Brian M.
Past Member 5 years ago

I haven't flown on a plane since 1978. Commercial aviation has a horrible carbon footprint.

Jo Zee
Jo Zimny6 years ago

Nancy B. has it right, money talks. I wonder if they serve the 1% conventional or organic food. If its the conventional stuff then they are getting their helping of chemicals just like the rest of us...and they put their pants on one leg at a time if you get my meaning.

Howard C.
.6 years ago

If I am taking a short flight (5 hours or less) then I don't eat on the plane - apart from maybe the peanuts if they are offered. On longer flights I take the option of the meal, not least because it gives me something to do (there are only so many movies anyone can watch!!). The food often looks really nice, it is sometimes well presented but it never seems to taste of anything, this article explains why - thank you for posting.

Wim Zunnebeld
Wim Zunnebeld6 years ago


Christine C.
Chandra C6 years ago

I've never been on a plane.

Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare6 years ago

I eat on airplanes because its kinda like peer pressure; you turn to your left, someone is eating, you turn to your right, someone else is eating, and the whole place smells of food so...:/
My point is: air line food isnt as tragic as people make it sound, and if you think its so bad, then why not eat in the airplane? Or pack something like tiny packs of cereal if you can.

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad6 years ago

@ Elaine, are you bragging? Does it matter who paid for it, great it was the US government.

Of course I am Anne...You know if the government is going to pay $500.00 for a hammer when you can get it for $9.99 at Home Depot I was worth every penny to the Military as we got the job done! Damn right there is no greater pleasure than being rewarded highly for your efforts and Hey...I didn't mention all the booze we could drink as well, on the aircraft and in those lounges nor the 5 Star hotels that look just like the ones in the commercials where you step out on to a veranda with the Roman pillars over looking the Mediterranean. You betcha I know what royalty feels like.................I also know when one is so jealous it just permeates their posting......;))

Martha Nieto
Martha Nieto6 years ago

I always have tomato juice, a glass of whisky on the rocks, wine with the dinner and plenty of water. After that I just don´t care about the taste and sleep all the way :)

Ron B.
Ron B6 years ago

Better tasting food for the 1%? You mean the airlines still serve any kind of edible food at all for us 99%?