Airline Food: Best to Worst

There's such a variety between airlines when it comes to airline food.
airline food

There’s such a variety between airlines when it comes to airline food.

I have been flying for a long time, and have always had a fascination for a long time.

I have had the pleasure and delight of being served the very best the airline had to offer.

And over the years I have also experienced the very worst of what they had to offer.

You get what you pay for, and that is certainly true of airline food.

Airline food has changed dramatically on planes over the years, reflecting how much the airline industry has changed.

When I was young I was lucky enough to experience air travel on a regular basis.

Flying was exciting and as many of you know I love airplanes, and wanted to be an airline pilot.

In those days, whatever class you traveled in you got a hot meal that was quite generous.

And aside from much more legroom in economy class, you had a decent meal.

But all this has changed dramatically, especially in the United States.

airline food

Meals have disappeared right along with any legroom that allowed you to sit comfortably.

Air travel is just not what it used to be, some for the better, and more for the worse.

So much of the experience is about the class of travel you have chosen.

In the premium cabins of business and first class, food service continues to get better.

Not so much in the economy cabin where food offerings are shrinking and disappearing.

It is understandable that airlines will focus on the cabins that have the biggest return per square foot.

The business classes are very profitable for the airlines and where a lot of focus goes.

I have flown a lot on the Oneworld Alliance airline, two of which are American Airlines and British Airways.

Both these airlines have done a lot to soup up their offerings in business class.

And many airlines around the world have done this too.

airline food

The Middle Eastern gulf carriers lead the way with some of the best cuisine in the air.

Serving so many meals to so many people every day is an exercise in logistics.

It is estimated that at any one time there are a million people in the air.

That is a lot of airline catering of meals and snacks happening around the clock.

The operations of catering food are massive, and are very well oiled machines that function like clockwork.

Meals are prepared in vast kitchens by thousands of chefs.

Meals are portioned, weighed, packaged and put into big coolers where they wait for their flights.

There are very strict rules on how long food can remain in transit out of refrigeration.

Food safety is a huge consideration for airplane food and the meals served.

Food poisoning is one of the biggest worries for the caterers.

When flights are cancelled or delayed often food has to be thrown away.

The same as any food that is not used on a flight is thrown away.

Cost is another consideration for carriers when it comes to the kind of food they offer.

It is about $10 for a full meal in economy  and up to $35 for business class and more for first class.

This does not include the cost of alcohol that is served on board during meal service.

Airlines serve special meals as part of their free meal service.

Trying to cater to all the different dietary requirements out there is not easy.

Meals have to be planned and prepared far in advance for eating as an in-flight meal. 

Our taste buds behave differently in a pressurized environment.

Airline meals are meticulously planned to make sure that they taste of something.

It’s not always a good something, but airlines try to make it an edible something. 

I have had some meals that rivaled five star restaurants in the air when traveling first class.

I have had some of my best meals on Singapore Airlines, Emirates, and Cathay Pacific.

These airlines are consistently good with their food offerings, but other airlines can surprise you from time to time.

I have found that the impact of food in business or first class will have a lot to do with service.

If the service is good the food tastes better, and if the service is bad then the food doesn’t taste as good.

It comes down to the individual flight attendants and their attitudes as to the level of general enjoyment I get out of a flight.

If you are in a plane for ten hours, your interactions are mainly with one or two people.

The flight attendants assigned to you will make a difference to how you feel.

And that will go for how they serve your meal to you as well.

Some of the best food and service I have experienced was on Cathay Pacific.

More specifically the Cathay of 15 years ago.

I remember flying in first class from New York to Hong Kong via Vancouver and being on the plane 21 hours.

In the end I was happy to stay on board and not get off in Hong Kong. 

airline food

The  service and food was that good.

Last year I flew Cathay from London to Hong Kong in first class, it was good, but things had changed.

All the airlines are trying to give what looks like more, but isn’t necessarily.

The competition is fierce for the premium customer so airlines want to do what they can to attract those passengers.

This must be done while keeping a lid on all the costs that can easily spiral out of control.

I have not flown all the airlines out there or tried all airline meals.

But from my perspective regarding the airlines that I have flown there have been some memorable meals.

Airline Food Rankings

I will put Cathay Pacific at the top of my list given the great meals and consistency of service.

Then I would say Emirates comes second for meals in first class.

I flew from JFK to Dubai in a first class fully enclosed suite which was a fantastic experience.

Singapore Airlines has great offers of food, and tremendous wine lists.

Japan Airlines has a wonderful seat in first class, and cuisine to match.

British Airways is hit and miss, but when they hit it’s good.

Special meals on BA are very good.

airline food

Qatar is a multi award winning airline, and the food has always been solidly good.

Oman Air surprised me with a very decent meal in business class.

The other side of the coin is as follows.

I would say the food on American Airlines is nothing very memorable even in first class.

And probably the worst I had was on United Airlines in economy.

At the end of the day this is a very subjective list.

Impressions of a particular flight does not take a lot of other variables into consideration.

When you think of all the things that have to go right for airlines to operate, it is incredible it’s not so much worse.

All in all most airlines do a pretty good job with their airline food given the parameters they have to work in.


Hello! I'm Chef Tariq.

I’m a food, travel & lifestyle blogger who is passionate about creating recipes from my Arab American background. I love to travel and share my experiences and top tips along the way.

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Hello! I’m Chef Tariq.

I’m a food, travel & lifestyle blogger who is passionate about creating recipes from my Arab American background. I love to travel and share my experiences and top tips along the way.