It goes without saying that we all have different food preferences. When I write flight reviews, people often have a variety of comments about what I choose to order. In this post, I figured I’d share my general thought process when it comes to deciding what to order onboard flights for travel in premium cabins.
In this post:
My food preferences & likes
First, for some context, let me share my general food preferences. When I was much younger, I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade. I loved animals (and still do), and I was grossed out by the concept of meat and how it’s produced. While I’m no longer a vegetarian, I’d consider myself to basically be a lazy pescatarian:
- I primarily eat fish and veggies, as that’s what I like most; I maybe eat chicken once a week, and maybe have a steak once every couple of months
- I don’t eat pork, not for religious reasons, but because I think pigs are super cute and smart, so I almost view them as being similar to dogs
- For the rare instances where I eat meat, I try to have it in situations where it’s good quality; for example, I’ll almost never have a fast food burger, while I’m happy to have a filet every once in a while
How I approach ordering meals on airplanes
I think it’s important to consider the realities of airplane food. Food isn’t cooked on planes, but rather the food is prepared in a catering facility many hours before you actually consume it, and is then reheated in the galley. Therefore I think it’s worth almost thinking of airplane food as leftovers — if you go to a restaurant and bring food home, what’s going to reheat best, and taste best the next day? Because that’s the most realistic comparison to airplane food.
With that in mind, below are some considerations I have when ordering airplane food…
I go with the airline’s signature dish
For airlines known for having good quality food, I think it’s worth indulging in a carrier’s signature dish, or a dish the carrier is known for. For example, Singapore Airlines’ satay is delicious…
…as is Emirates’ Arabic mezze.
You really can’t go wrong when selecting one of these options.
I select cold options & things that reheat well
There’s something to be said for ordering options that don’t require reheating, given that it might just be as good in the air as on the ground. Emirates’ unlimited first-class caviar service comes to mind as an example of that. 😉
When it comes to dishes being reheated, I tend to think that soup, curry, and/or Asian vegetarian dishes reheat extremely well. For example, I love Indian food, and when I order takeout, it tastes every bit as good the next day as when it arrives. The same principle applies to planes, in my opinion.
Main courses are usually underwhelming
Typically, airlines serve way more food in premium cabins than I can eat. So, if I have to prioritize what I’m going to eat, I tend to think that it’s often worth just avoiding the main courses. Caviar, appetizers, soup, salad, cheese, and dessert can all be done well on airplanes. Meanwhile, even on top airlines, main courses just typically aren’t much to get excited about.
When flying Lufthansa first class, a vast majority of the time, the best play is to have all the appetizer and dessert options and skip the main course.
I shouldn’t eat fish on planes, but do
With everything I’ve said above, let me also acknowledge my hypocrisy and inconsistency. It’s challenging to serve a good fish dish on a plane, yet more often than not, that’s what I select as my main course in situations where I order one. Why? It just comes down to the fact that I generally avoid eating meat, and that often leaves the option between fish and pasta.
Between those two options, I’d rather have something that’s not super caloric, and that has a lot of protein (okay, ignore the slab of butter on the salmon below).
So yeah, my logic totally falls apart here, and I own that. Logically, based on my preferences, I should probably order more pasta dishes. But that’s often not terribly nutritious.
Domestically I go for the simple option
While I often indulge in tasty food and great wine when traveling internationally, I take a different approach on domestic flights. On domestic flights, the thing I value most about first class is having more personal space, so that I can comfortably work, without being in some contorted position.
I don’t drink these on flights, and my goal is to order the healthiest and/or closest to vegetarian dish. Unfortunately as a frequent flyer with American, this means I typically order the grains bowl. Yes, it’s kind of rabbit food, but it’s decent enough.
What’s my logic? Airline budgets for domestic first-class meals are ridiculously low, so if I’m going to eat a super unhealthy meal or have meat, it’s not going to be on a flight where I’m enjoying a $4 short rib and mac and cheese dish.
I essentially order whatever is most opposite from the burgers that US airlines have started serving in first class, which I just can’t wrap my head around. Burgers can’t be reheated well, and when you combine that with the low-quality meat they’re using, it’s just not up my alley.
Everyone takes a different approach to deciding what to order when traveling in first or business class. The above is a rundown of the approach I take when deciding what to order. Let me acknowledge that my logic is by no means 100% consistent, and this is purely based on my own preferences and approach to eating, which won’t be (and shouldn’t be) the same as those of others.
What’s your strategy when it comes to deciding what meal to order on flights?