Ice Cream Sundaes On Airplanes: Why They’re Awesome

Filed Under: Travel

Efficient Asian Man wrote a post yesterday entitled “Things I Don’t Get: Sundaes on Airplanes:”

The biggest issue that I have is that the sundaes generally aren’t very good. Maybe I’d be happier if I were a 5th grader going to an ice cream social, but I really don’t want to be eating bad quality ice cream with my choice of hot fudge, caramel, nuts, fruit syrup, and whipped cream. Especially since ice cream served on planes is often served rock hard.

There’s also some odd element of the infantilization of premium class passengers. I admit that I am a total pajama-on-airplanes convert, but it’s strange how some elements of premium class travel seem to encourage reversion to younger states of life (another example: cookies and milk on AA).

It’s an interesting argument. He uses ice cream sundaes to explain how airlines are “infantilizing” us, but at the same time is onboard with pajamas. He said he’d never pay for an airline quality ice cream sundae at a restaurant, though would he really pay for any other domestic airline quality meal at a restaurant? I don’t think so.

Since I do “get” ice cream sundaes, I figured I’d share my thoughts. Why are ice cream sundaes on airplanes awesome?

Ice cream sundaes are customizable

Most desserts on planes aren’t customizable. Ice cream sundaes are. You have your choice of toppings. Want just ice cream? Great! Wanna sprinkle some nuts on there? You betcha. Wanna go all out and drizzle it with every sweet liquid on earth? As you wish!


Ice cream sundaes are cold

Airplane cabins are typically on the warm side, so a cold dessert is kind of nice after a hot meal.


So what if ice cream is rock hard?

Efficient Asian Man mentions that ice cream on planes is often served rock hard. And the problem with that is what exactly? You typically have hours on end to finish your ice cream, so it’s just yet another thing to do on a plane. While you’re going 500 miles per hour. In a metal tube. Through the sky. Like a bird.

Everything tastes better in the sky

I’ve flown millions and millions of miles. But it never gets old. There’s still something about flying that leaves me in awe every time. And in terms of mental associations I have with “the good old days,” ice cream sundaes rank pretty high up there. Now I wasn’t flying 50 years ago when they had a lounge on the upper deck of the 747, though going back a decade, I remembers the days where ice cream sundaes were available on a vast majority of flights. And as much as they’ve been cut on many routes since, there’s just something that feels very “good old days” about it (not that a decade ago was by any means the golden days of flying, heh).

They’re not Lufthansa desserts

Here’s the thing — if you’re going to say ice cream sundaes are bad on planes, I think it’s also worth looking at the desserts offered by other airlines.

Quite possibly the only part I don’t love about Lufthansa first class, for example, are their desserts. Would you really prefer elderflower soup to a delicious, nutty, chocolatey ice cream sundae?


Or perhaps a confit of green tomato and pineapple… for dessert?


Yes, there are some airlines that actually have spectacular desserts. Etihad’s banana and toffee gateau comes to mind.


But they’re few and far between, in my experience. And if we’re going to look at the desserts that would otherwise be served by US airlines, is a dried up piece of chocolate or carrot cake really better?

What about you — do you like ice cream sundaes on planes, or prefer a different dessert?


  1. I am always delighted to get an ice cream sundae on a flight. There is no such thing as a bad ice cream sundae.

  2. I love ice cream sundaes pretty much anywhere, anytime. Like you said, they’re customizable so I get exactly what I want. To me if you’re offering dessert there needs to be at least one chocolate option. I do like other kinds of desserts but the first thing I look for on the dessert menu is chocolate. And chocolate + ice cream = winner.

  3. The only time I flew UAL, they gave me a free sundae. It was the furthest thing from a hard rock, more like vanilla flavored whipped cream, which wasn’t bad. (Free is always good 🙂 ) Back to the elderflower thing. If your dad eats it, than you run the risk of your mother turning into a hamster. (It’s a Monty Python reference)

  4. Honestly, this love of ice cream on planes seems to be very much an American thing. When we trialed serving ice-cream as a dessert on our route between Ghana and London, the feedback from passengers in both Business and Economy was overwhelmingly negative. Passengers felt it was “cheap”, “too sticky and messy” and “not appropriate” among other things. Trial lasted for 3 weeks and we went back to the usual mix of mousses, cakes and other more conventional foods. Pity, ‘cos ice-cream is a lovely cheap option from the airline standpoint.

  5. I will neither confirm nor deny the scurrilous allegation that I might have, on occasion, been known to switch my flight schedules just to be on an AA transcon that has sundae service. That may, or may not, be just how much I like them.


  6. @Sean M: “Passengers felt it was “cheap”, “too sticky and messy” and “not appropriate” among other things. ”

    I feel exactly that way about ice cream served on US-based airlines’ first class. Plain and simple, it’s an inexpensive way to provide dessert to people who have paid a lot of money for their tickets.

    Of course, the airlines know that Americans love ice cream, probably more than any other demographic world-wide. But it’s terrible for you: pure fat and sugar, nothing else, and the portions are huge. The same goes for the warm cookies they hand out for dessert on some airlines.

    Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions, and one reason is that food service providers are all too willing to give people exactly what they want, and more of it per serving than ever before. (A standard serving of Coke, for instance, has gone from 6 ounces in the 1960s to 12 or often many more ounces today.) Airlines shouldn’t be complicit in this.

    I’ll take the elderflower soup, thank you very much. Sophisticated, possibly tasty, and probably 1/4 the calories of a sundae.

  7. Ice cream is awesome. As you said delicious and customizable. I also appreciate it because I am old enough to remember when it was not possible to get ice cream on a plane. I guess refrigeration systems weren’t capable? Or maybe nobody had thought of it. Sometime in the mid eighties I was on an economy transcontinental – USAir I think. As a
    Mid flight snack the flight attendants handed out ice cream sandwiches. I told friends afterward, and everyone was somewhat amazed. A simple low cost snack but it made the flight memorable.

  8. A big thumbs-up on ice cream sundaes! I associate them with feelings of home or something celebratory.

  9. Love the AA ice cream sundae but admittedly feel embarrassed (as a man in his early 30s) ordering one, especially specifying toppings. Oh well. YOLO.

    Can’t bring myself to do the milk and cookies though! Yet.

  10. I’d happily take that elderflower soup or tomato confit (or even the green shiso sorbet) over a UA or AA sundae, thank you very much.

  11. @Sean M. brings an interesting point. Air Canada serve ice cream and cookies in their domestic and intercontinental routes, but offer other desserts (mousse, cake, etc) on their international flights. I’ve mostly always flown european airlines and when I first took United business and United first on international flights I was surprised that people were looking so forward to the sundae and the genuine excitment in the cabin. I’d take Swiss International Business Class chocolate mousse dessert over a sundae any time! Sundaes in economy, sure, why not! But would you pay for a sunday in a white table cloth restaurant after foie gras starter and cod (the fish) main course on the ground ? I think not…

  12. I really don’t like the sundaes (or the cookies). The Lufthansa desserts look and sound much better to me. But I know that at least in the US market I am in the minority. So I just skip dessert, which from the airline’s standpoint is probably the best outcome of all.

  13. Surprised Lufthansa doesn’t have ice cream. They eat more ice cream here in Germany and in larger quantities than Ive ever seen anywhere else.

  14. I personally don’t care for ice-cream (lactose intolerance). I especially hate it when airlines give it out as mid flight snack during long international flights. Kids always get so sugar high that they start screaming. Some get sick and start yacking. The smell is awful!

  15. I’m with Asian Man, sundaes on a flight are absolute rubbish. That said I think an icecream sundae on the ground is absolute rubbish as well. It what one serves when they have no imagination. Just throw an explosion of sugary crap into a container and voila you have an ice cream sundae. Don’t get me started on the fresh cookies that American serve. Yuk, yuk, yuk, Can anyone really like those things and who besides a 2 year old wants a glass of not fresh milk served with it.

  16. @Gary Leff AA uses Ben and Jerry’s, no? Curious what you would buy at home. Please don’t say Movenpick, which I have seen presented as premium but is bland, bland, bland.

    Regarding Bailey’s, a dessert option I hadn’t considered until reading Lucky’s blog, I had the strangest experience in JL J JFK-NRT. The service from the FAs was, let’s say, very hands off. Until I asked for a baileys on the rocks with dessert. The FA seemed pleasantly surprised and smiled widely. From then on, for the next 13 hours or so, they absolutely doted on me. It was as if I had unlocked some traveler code. Maybe I should start asking for diet Coke with a lime. ;D

  17. I avoid sundaes when flying because the ice cream quality is low, and generally if I eat low quality ice cream right before trying to sleep, I find myself congested and unable to get good quality sleep.

  18. The sundaes are often pretty good – I only have ice-cream on airplanes so once in a while isn’t going to kill me. I wish the US carriers would switch to something healthier though

  19. I always pass on the AA sundaes and cookies… cheap, sugar-loaded and not worth the calories. And, as mentioned by others, purely lacking in imagination.

    There are thousands of other healthier and delicious desserts for adults with a grown up palate.

  20. I think the thing is, for me, ice cream sundae’s just don’t have that “first class” feel to them (just like I chuckle whenever I see something like hummus offered in a premium cabin). They’d be ok for business, I guess.

    Posting what Luftansa offers isn’t the best counterargument; even though it aims for “gourmet”, it does tend to end up more “what was the chef thinking?”. As you posted, Etihad (and others like ANA, Singapore, etc) does a good job offering good high class deserts that taste good, and should be what airlines offer in first class. Or if nothing else, do what BA does and offer both…

  21. Agree sundaes are a lazy option. Fine for domestic but not much else. Lh are not a fair counterpoint as their desserts are whacky compared to most airlines. That said if u want to do a Sunday u need to start with great ice cream and few do…..

  22. Ice Cream is super pedestrian! And you can totally customize the Etihad four dessert tasters by deciding in what order you will eat them!

  23. It’s the rock hard, deep frozen quality of most airplane ice cream that turns me off, though I’ve had sundaes on UA that are more than passable. One of the things that impressed me about the JetBlue Mint cabin was the Blue Marble organic ice cream they served from a cup: it was creamy, smooth, velvety and precisely on point. It didn’t taste cheap. If AA or UA wanted to “class up” their sundaes, they could actually source high quality ice cream and advertise it as such… granted, it wouldn’t be as cheap, but it would be far tastier!

  24. Gross and inappropriate an ice cream sundae–must be an American thing–cheap, low quality, and big portions of junk. No thank you. Elderberry soup sounds more adult for a sophisticated palate not amateur hour childish us desserts.

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