Just how fresh is your plane meal? The results might surprise you.

If you're served first you have the best chance of getting the freshest food

We were one of the first to board a flight the other day and you could smell the food and already been pre-cooked before we sat in our seat. This got me thinking: how fresh is the food you get served on a plane and how early is it cooked before it’s served?

We all know that plane food can be overcooked. Unless you sit in Business or First Class, chances of getting a rare cut of beef on a plane is nearly impossible. Served well done, it’s often heated up far beyond anything you’d expect to eat at home.

The first thing to consider is when is your meal stocked. On long-haul flights, the meals are boarded with the plane, depending on the location. Board your plane in Seattle and the food will have been prepared within the vicinity should reflect local produce. This is why your menu will always differ from what you’d expect if you boarded in, say, Singapore.

Short haul flights are very different. Often the meals are stocked in advance and the return dishes are those that flew out with the plane, even to longer short haul destinations such as Cyprus. Most of these meals are pre-cooked and simply heated on the on-board microwave. Or you’ll be served a cold salad which was stored in the plane fridge. But, very occasionally, on a short haul flight, you might get served a meal which has been sitting most o the day and was stocked when the plane took off in the morning.

But, is the food fresh?  Lonely Planet looked into the freshness of your average meal and found that’s often fresher than the salad your purchase off-the-shelf from your local supermarket, with a supplier stating “as standard practice, catering for a specific flight is prepared by our catering partner within 24 hours of departure. The food is stored under strictly-controlled conditions to maintain quality and freshness and delivered to the aircraft directly from the catering unit within two hours of departure”.

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s the same for every airline and economy passengers. Some meals are prepared in bulk, in advance, then sit in freezers for many days before being delivered to the airline. When the meals are prepared for the customers, they are heated up in bulk and take ages to be served, meaning your meal can taste very different if you’re last to be served – plane food can often become mushy from the cooking process whilst it sits on the trolley waiting to be served.

The big question is if you’re unhappy with your meal, can you request another (or even a second)? The answer is a surprising, yes. British Airways say they will happily supply a replacement or even a second helping, if there are meals left over after serving, stating “requests for extra food from passengers are not turned down. Passengers who ask for an extra meal will be given one, subject to availability”.

What’s your experience of plane food? We’ve had mixed experiences, even when requesting the same meal on the same airline, twice.


About Author

The co-founder of Short Motivation, Chris originates from a technology background, initially developing software and then migrating to the international magazine industry for the last 15 years. The idea for Short Motivation came from travelling through 2011 and eventually became reality six years later, in 2017.