10 Things You Didn't Know About Airplane Food — But You Should

Love it or hate it, you should know what you're getting into with airplane food.

Some people have strong feelings about airplane food — love it (looking at you, Chrissy Teigen) or hate it (Gordon "no f---ing way" Ramsay), or skip it but pass the gin ("because they can't f---k that up," according to the late Anthony Bourdain).

Whether you're into it or would rather not touch the stuff, most air travelers are going to be subjected to consuming a tray of airplane food at some point or another. So you might as well know what you're eating — and even if you're a seasoned jet setter, there are a few things about in-sky dining that you probably didn’t know.

Here are a few food facts that you won’t be able to get out of your head when you’re eating on your next flight.

1.  Special meals are more than just the veg option.

Special meals aren’t only for vegetarian, vegan, or gluten free folks or those in first class. Most airlines also offer Hindu, Halal, and Kosher meals, especially those based in countries with a typical national diet. However, if you have a specific taste profile and you’d like accommodations for that, it’s not impossible to find a meal for you. 

You can get low salt meals, diabetic meals, low lactose meals, raw vegetable meals, or even bland meals that come without spices or vegetables that can produce certain gas. You can select your preferred meal at booking or check-in though you may have to call the airline beforehand to ensure they have a meal for you. 

2.  Order a special meal and you'll be served first.

Before the bulk of the food comes out, flight attendants tend to take care of special meal service. This is because the majority of the passengers haven’t requested a special meal, so it is easier for them to carry a few meals quickly through the aisle than to try and sort through them in the cart later.

3.  Your ears and taste buds don't work the way you think.

That’s right — just as your ears react to changes in cabin pressure, your taste buds lose some sensitivity when such changes happen. Your taste buds are actually linked to your inner ear function. When your body experiences noise, pressure, and humidity changes that affect your ears, those same changes reduce your sensitivity to sweet and salty flavors.

4.  But umami flavors remain unaffected.

While taste buds become less sensitive to sweet and salty, umami flavors remain present and even enhanced. Umami, or savory flavor, is often characteristic of foods like tomato, mushrooms, parmesan cheese, or caramelized onions. Think broth or cooked meats. This is why airlines try to cater to umami flavors rather than focusing completely on salty or sweet notes.

5.  You do get drunk faster.

Just as changes in pressure, humidity and noise can affect your inner ear function and taste buds, it can also make you light-headed or dizzy. Combined with alcohol, this can be a pretty dramatic change for your body. Do your best to self-police your alcohol intake, keep hydrated as much as possible, and don’t skip that meal. 

You’ll find that you’ll survive that long-haul flight much better when you practice discipline. 

6.  Food is made on the ground and finished on the plane.

Meals are loaded onto the planes in a fully prepped and semi-completed state. The food is prepared and assembled on the ground, but often the meat will finish cooking on board. This is done because it ensures a proper meat temperature at the time of meal service, both in terms of cook time and serving quality. 

7.  There is an airplane food black market.

Yes, there is a black market for airline food and it is particularly common in India. Leftover airline food is often sold at rock-bottom prices. Some of it comes from dumpsters that collect the millions of tons of waste per year that is generated by uneaten airline meals. Then there are the meals that come from flight attendants or airline workers who sneak the leftovers out of the plane.

8.  Sneaking is smuggling.

While removing leftovers for future use seems like a step in a sustainable and waste-free direction, it’s actually a crime. In fact, flight attendants or airline crew workers who are caught with extra meals could be charged with smuggling. The severity is more common when crew members leave the plane with mini bottles of alcohol, though. Those can be resold plus it may not be legal to transport them, depending on local alcohol transit regulations.

9.  Pilots and co-pilots don't eat the same thing.

This isn’t necessarily done because of a difference in preference, but it is done for safety reasons. In the unlikely event of food poisoning, it would be bad news for the pilot and co-pilot to have eaten from the same bad batch. At least one of them needs to be piloting the plane at all times, so for passenger safety, they pick different meals.

10.  You can ask for more snacks.

Don’t be shy! It is totally OK to politely ask for more snacks when everyone has been served. In fact, some airlines have started to offer double snacks from the beginning, which is great. However, if you’re still hungry and you aren’t expecting a meal service (or even if you are) it is not an issue for you to ask for more. Flight attendants would rather have satisfied passengers than fatigued, hungry ones. 

Just don't drink the coffee: You've been warned.

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