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Lunch aboard Garuda Indonesia (economy class); Japanese style, with teriyaki beef and rice, dorayaki, buckwheat noodles, and a beverage

An airline meal or in-flight meal is a meal served to passengers on board a commercial airliner. These meals are prepared by airline catering services.

The first kitchens preparing meals in-flight were established by United Airlines in 1936.

These meals vary widely in quality and quantity across different airline companies and classes of travel. They range from a simple beverage in short-haul economy class to a seven-course gourmet meal in long-haul first class.



Short-haul meal of Austrian Airlines

The type of food varies depending upon the airline company and class of travel. Meals may be served as "one tray" or in multiple courses with no tray and with a tablecloth, metal cutlery, and glassware (generally in first and business classes).

The airline dinner typically includes meat (most commonly chicken or beef) or fish, a salad or vegetable, a small bread roll, and a dessert.

Caterers usually produce alternative meals for passengers with restrictive diets. These must usually be ordered in advance, sometimes when buying the ticket. Some of the more common examples include:


Breakfast served on short-haul flights in Aeroflot

Before the September 11th attacks in 2001, first class passengers were often provided with full sets of metal cutlery. Afterward, common household items were evaluated more closely for their potential use as weapons on aircraft, and both first class and coach class passengers were restricted to plastic utensils (also known as "Sporks"). This restriction has since been relaxed in many countries.

Other non-food items

Condiments (typically salt, pepper, and sugar) are supplied in small sachets. For cleanliness most meals come with a napkin and a moist towelette. First and business class passengers are often provided with hot towels, proper salt and pepper shakers, and other items typically seen in a restaurant.


Dinner served in domestic first class on Northwest Airlines

During morning flights a cooked breakfast or smaller continental-style may be served. On long haul flights and (short/medium haul flights within Asia) breakfast normally includes an entrée of pancakes or eggs, traditional fried breakfast foods such as sausages and grilled tomatoes, and often muffins or pastry, fruits and breakfast cereal on the side. On shorter flights a continental-style breakfast, generally including a miniature box of breakfast cereal, fruits and either a muffin, pastry, or bagel. Coffee and tea are offered as well, and sometimes hot chocolate.


China Eastern Airlines - Domestic Flight Snack Box

Food on board the flight ranges in price from free (many airlines, especially those in Asia and all airlines on long-distance flights) to as much as ten dollars (Midwest Airlines). Quality may also fluctuate due to shifts in the economics of the airline industry, with private jet passengers receiving the equivalent of five-star food service.[1]

On the longest flights in first class and business class, most Asian and European airlines serve multicourse gourmet meals, while airlines based in the US tend to serve large, hearty, meals including a salad, steak or chicken, potatoes, and ice cream. Some long-haul flights in first class (from mostly Asian carriers) offer such delicacies as caviar, champagne, and sorbet. The cost and availability of meals on US airlines has changed considerably in recent years, as financial pressures have inspired some airlines to either begin charging for meals or abandon them altogether in favor of small snacks (Southwest Airlines). Eliminating free pretzels saved Northwest $2 million annually. The carrier lost nearly $3.3 billion since 2001. Air China has reported that each domestic flight's meal requires RMB50 (US$7.3) while international flights require RMB70 (US$10).[2] However, this figure varies from airline to airline, as some have reported costs to be as low as US$3.5.[3] Air China is also minimizing costs by loading only 95% of all meals to reduce leftovers and storing non-perishable foods for emergencies.


A British Airways lunch (economy): baked fish, salmon salad and apple pie.

Meals must generally be frozen and heated on the ground before takeoff, rather than prepared fresh. Guillaume de Syon, a history professor at Albright College who wrote about the history of airline meals, said that the higher altitudes alter the taste of the food and the function of the taste buds; according to de Syon the food may taste "dry and flavorless" as a result of the pressurization and passengers, feeling thirsty due to pressurization, many drink alcohol when they ought to drink water.[4]


In 1958 Pan Am and several European airlines went into a legal dispute over whether certain airline food sandwiches counted as a meal.[5]

Food safety

Food safety is paramount in the airline catering industry. A case of mass food poisoning amongst the passengers on an airliner could have disastrous consequences. For example, on February 20, 1992, shrimp tainted with cholera was served on Aerolíneas Argentinas Flight 386. An elderly passenger died and other passengers fell ill.

Technical crew meals

Food being delivered to a Boeing 767

Food safety with technical crew meals (pilots and flight engineers) is sometimes even stricter than for passengers. Many foodstuffs are banned completely from crew meals, including all egg products and often any dairy that has not been ultra-heat treated. The meals supplied on some airlines are labeled with the position of the crew member for whom they are intended, and no technical crew member eats any of the same products as his or her colleague. This ensures that each pilot eats a different meal to minimize the risk of all pilots on board being ill. This situation was a key part of the plot of the movie "Airplane!"

See also


External links

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