The best airline food in the industry

The much-maligned reputation of airline food wasn’t conjured from thin air. It has long been synonymous with terrible quality, not to mention a beloved subject of 90s stand-up comedy, but those days are long gone.

Airline food has come a long way since the 90s. Image credit: Mars Yu/iStock
Airline food has come a long way since the 90s. Image credit: Mars Yu/iStock

With few exceptions, typical airline food was cold mashed potato, vegetables steamed until they had disintegrated and pastry as stale as sawdust. Those days have been over for some time, however, with airlines scrambling in the race to offer their travelers the absolute best high-quality cuisine.

While some luxury private jets and top-end carriers may boast an onboard kitchen, for the most part, there simply isn’t space for most airlines to accommodate a kitchen on-board their planes. Most meals are pre-prepared as a necessity, sometimes up to 72 hours before serving. While freshness might be compromised, that hasn’t stopped airlines from finding new and fantastic ways to deliver delicious food that is both nutritious and good quality.

The highest in Emirati standards

It’s logical that airlines specialising in longer distance flights would be the ones leading the way for rising food standards. After all, those passengers traveling on eight or nine-hour flights are at the mercy of the food far more than those traveling for just an hour or two. Emirates is one such airline, accustomed to flying people from its base in Dubai to far-flung places on the opposite side of the world, leaving plenty of time for their passengers to work up an appetite.

Those flying with Emirates to Tokyo or Osaka, for instance, can experience the authentic tastes of Japan before their plane has even touched down. Emirates has taken the responsibility to work with local chefs to make sure their airline food is of the typically excellent standard served in the best of Japanese establishments. A traditional Kaiseki (multiple-course meal) is served to customers, who can savor a range of authentic flavoured rice, miso soup and hot dishes. If you’ve got still enough space for dessert, Wagashi sweets (prepared to traditional specifications) are on offer, washed down with a cup of green tea.

With attention to detail, the airline has also made sure that even the tableware matches the elegance and placement of something served in one of Tokyo’s finest Tempura restaurants. Working closely with renowned dishware maker Noritake, everything from the shape of food trays to the distance between plates and cutlery has been calculated to ensure authenticity. In an attempt to create as fresh a meal as possible, vegetables are sourced from local farms, sometimes within a couple of kilometers of the facility in which they are prepared.

A royal experience with Thai Airways

Thai Airways is another of the major Asian carriers which is attempting to forge itself a reputation as the absolute best in terms of high-class food. Renowned celebrity chef Ken Hom has suggested that Asian food is particularly suited to air travel. That suggestion is not without merit. Asian cuisine can be relatively quick to produce and its reliance on vegetables and spices to produce strong and distinct flavors mean fantastic dishes can be prepared quickly and with ease.

Asian soups and broths which may seem simple in concept can produce truly mouthwatering experiences. Some of these soups are on offer with Thai Airways – hearty broths with carrots, prawns, and mushrooms with a kick of chilli. Main meals consisting of delicious curry dishes or stir-fried vegetables prepared with authentic and locally-sourced spices will leave you hungry for more. If you’re hoping to wet your whistle, the airline offers a range of local beers and liquors, as well as some more internationally recognisable names. A regular winner of awards for airline meals, Thai Airways’ passengers are perhaps the most consistently satisfied of all travelers.

Showing admirable flexibility, Thai Airways also implements a chef-on-call service, meaning passengers leaving from Bangkok can request specialist menus in advance of their flight. First class passengers can look forward with much anticipation to both caviar and champagne, as well as a truly sumptuous amuse bouche and rich and delicious desserts. Not exactly what comes to mind when picturing a meal served to you six miles above the earth’s surface.

Broths and soups are becoming more popular dishes across a number of airlines. Image credit: Noir Chocolate/iStock
Broths and soups are becoming more popular dishes across a number of airlines. Image credit: Noir Chocolate/iStock

Impeccable taste with Qantas Airways

Qantas Airways is one of the oldest airlines in the world and operates primarily out of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. They have taken the measure of hiring Australian Michelin-starred chef Neil Perry to concoct a menu of fantastic substance. First class international passengers can enjoy such delights as Jiangsu-style steamed blue eye with bacon and mushroom broth, locally sourced and prepared in facilities by skilled and experienced chefs. The airline food menu varies with the season, meaning regular travelers can expect to enjoy a huge variety of cuisine from around the world designed specifically to be served during their flight.

With an emphasis on service, Qantas staff serving meals are silver service trained and able to advise you on your meal selection, making sure you’re not left wanting. Prestige champagnes are also on offer, and the airline takes a special pleasure in introducing its passengers from outside the country to the delights and variety of Australian wines. The wine is selected with the help of the country’s leading sommeliers, meaning you’re experiencing the cutting edge in terms of quality and taste.

Here’s a tip: The inclusion of in-flight chefs aboard a flight is no guarantee that the food will be much different to standard fare. For the majority of airlines, a designated onboard chef will prepare the food in a similar way to a regular cabin crew member. The majority of in-flight food is prepared before time and heated up in the air, whether or not the person serving it to you is wearing a chef’s uniform. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that an airline advertising a chef is likely to be paying extra attention to their meal service.

If you find yourself looking for a delicious treat at the airport before you have taken flight, then take a look at our guide on the best fine dining at airports around the world.

Once you’ve touched down at the airport, be sure to book a professional Blacklane car service to get you to your next destination.