Which airline serves the best food in-flight?

Gone are the days when we received some unknown meat topped with a squishy brown liquid and neon green vegetables on board airlines. These days, either we don’t receive anything for free ($2 for water anyone? Think US Airways ), or we receive peanuts (think Southwest) or are over-fed (think Qatar Airways). But which airlines serve the best food?

Food on Singapore Airlines - pretty good, but not the best

Food on Singapore Airlines - pretty good, but not the best

This article is inspired from a review SimpliFlying has received, which notes that there is hardly any talk about food quality on board airlines on this blog. Indeed, food quality and serivce forms an integral part of the flight experience – especially for long haul flights. In fact, it can sometimes be crucial to winning the customers hearts, as Malaysia Airlines CEO realized. They had been serving mutton biryani on routes to China, and customers didn’t like it. They switched to chicken rice, and won their hearts. At the same time, they started offering mutton biryani on flights to Delhi, which was well received too.

Personally, I’ve been pre-selecting Indian non-veg meals, across Star Alliance and Oneworld carriers. Though I’ve flown Singapore Airlines quite a lot, I wouldn’t rate their food as my favorite. My best culinary experiences at 35,000 feet have been on-board Qantas (SIN-FRA), Cathay Pacific (JFK-HKG) and Air Sahara (now, JetLite. SIN-DEL).

But what constitutes good food on board airlines? Quality? Quantity? Timing? Or cultural appropriateness? Which airlines serve the best food? Let’s hear it in the comments section (remember, you can win a 2GB iPod, just by commenting!).

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Showing 10 comments
  • Devesh Agarwal
    Reply

    The Singapore Airlines “Book The Cook” facility offers the convenience of predictability. The best meal I have ever had is Virgin Atlantic LHR-EWR. I could cut the steak with a fork. Unfortunately, most Asian airlines’ flight kitchens cook the steak beyond recognition even before loading on the flight. The only thing the cabin crew can do on-board is cremate it.

    An on-board meal has to consider all 4 aspects mentioned by you. Quality. Quantity. Timing. Cultural appropriateness. But above all, I think the biggest feature is an option. Not just Veg or Non Veg. But in each, a global option and a local option.

    Quantity is another touchy issue. Where does an airline balance things out. I am a 130kg guy. Imagine my quantity requirements compared to most of the dainty and ultra-petite crew on SQ or CX. Can I get an option to buy a second meal ?

    One aspect, I observe missing from most airlines’ calculations in terms of appropriateness for the time of day (or night), is the transit time to and from the airport. In many airports a passenger is leaving his/her hotel or home, 2~3 hours before a flight, and will not reach their destination hotel/home till 1~2 hours after the flight lands. On a 2 hour flight that is a full 6 hours, but the airline will serve a “snack” due to the short duration and the fact that the actual flight timings are between a meal. Say a 5pm departure and 7pm landing. Security only adds to lack of passengers being able to buy a sandwich or some other filling meal for consumption onboard.

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      Dear Devesh,

      I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts! Especially the last part. I flew from SFO-BOS last November on United non-stop…and guess what! For being in the air for 7hrs, and 2hrs before and after, all I had was a can of tomato juice! I can’t imagine flying US Airways on that route, where I’d have to pay even for water! Now, that’s a health hazard, don’t you think?

  • Devesh Agarwal
    Reply

    On a domestic US flight you were expecting food ?!?!?!?! Oh, then you have to read my article http://aviation.deveshagarwal.com/2008/11/singapore-airlines-5-star-no-more.html. I have experiences on Delta and United on international First and business that takes the cake. 🙂

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      @Devesh… Lucky you! To have traveled First Class internationally. Never mind if it was United :p

  • whakojacko
    Reply

    Far and away the best for me has been QR (both in Y and C). I flew IAD-DOH for both, and was really blown away by the quality.

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      @whakojacko: Good to hear something nice about Qatar Airways’ food. Cuz I’ve often heard that the quality is “ok” but the quantity is way too much. A friend of mine was fed four complete meals on her flight from BOM-EWR

  • whakojacko
    Reply

    @shashank. I assume that was over 2 flights though?…for instance IAD-DOH had 4-5 course main meal and then 2-3 course breakfast before landing. For a 13hr flight, I wouldnt consider it “excessive”. Where it really gets excessive is when you start ordering all the mid-flight snacks 🙂

  • Esteban
    Reply

    I think presentation is a big plus, especially in economy where the portions are small.
    And of course, taste is another plus.

    but it also depends on what are you expecting from the airline.
    flying on southwest, I don’t expect a 4 course meal.
    flying with SIA you expect the best, ad the airline have the pressure and responsibility to deliver.

  • berry
    Reply

    What constitutes a good in-flight food :
    in my opinion, its not about the goodness of the food being served, but the warmth, concern and respect from the one who serves. I guess this comes naturally for asian girls and could be one of the reasons for winning many in-flight awards, cos’ a genuine smile can make an ordinary meal taste delicious and filling. The difference has to be made between the ears ! ! and the toungue has a limited role to play. No one can measure up to this standard either through catering training and artificial/fake smile.

    berry, Chennai

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