I’m a travel writer and here’s why I secretly LOVE plane food – even the stodgy pasta and mysterious meat

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I can’t help but wonder – am I the only person who loves plane food?

I’ve taken trips of all kinds, from speedy short haul hops with Ryanair and easyJet to premium economy jaunts with Virgin Atlantic to the U.S and even some luxury business class flights with British Airways, Qatar and EVA Air.

I’ve also been able to serve-up first-class food at British Airways’ training school – so I know plane food intimately from creation to serving and, of course, eating. 

I’ve chowed down on every calibre of plane food and yet I’m constantly hearing others complain and whine about how unpleasant it is. 

I can’t help but disagree. 

Sophie Foster defends her love of in-flight meals, describing them as 'nectar' (stock image)

Sophie Foster defends her love of in-flight meals, describing them as ‘nectar’ (stock image)

I have had an illicit love affair with in-flight food since my first-ever flight – from floppy paninis to pre-heated kormas.

It’s easy to enjoy business-class food, whether that’s EVA Air’s midnight ramen bowls and fried crab snacks, dinnertime beef cheeks with rich gravy on European flights or Qatar’s delightful mezze plates. 

However, I’m also a big fan of re-heated metal trays of stodgy pasta, plastic cups filled with couscous and undeterminable dressing and, perhaps shockingly to some, even those £6 cheese and ham toasties that are served at a similar temperature to magma.

I’ll admit that my love of a sad English breakfast, often served in a metal tub, might come from my memories of flights as a child

Sophie Foster, Deputy Travel Editor  

I do know that plane food is not healthy, unless you’re opting for fruit or salad and that perhaps I should avoid it… but I won’t.

Our senses are dulled when flying in a pressurised cabin so that tasting the food is more difficult than when on the ground. 

According to research for Lufthansa by the Fraunhofer Institute, Artemis Aerospace noted in a blog post, salt is perceived to be between 20 and 30 per cent less intense and sugar 15 to 20 per cent less intense at high altitude, and overall almost 70 per cent of passengers’ sense of taste is lost. 

To make up for this, the meals are packed with added salt and sugar to ensure passengers can taste them.

According to some studies, the average plane meal has around 360-400 calories per food item (so roughly 1,500 calories in total) and high quantities of fat, salt and sugar.

Sophie admits that her love of 'a sad breakfast served in a metal tub' might come from  nostalgic memories of flights as a child

Sophie admits that her love of ‘a sad breakfast served in a metal tub’ might come from  nostalgic memories of flights as a child

Peter Jones, a retired professor of travel catering from Surrey University, noted: ‘Airlines are not hugely concerned about nutrition because their view is that one meal consumed by a passenger will not make the slightest bit of difference to them out of the thousands of meals they consume.’

Other ways of adding flavour to in-flight food include adding spice; nasal, astringent flavours such as wasabi and mustard; and the fifth taste (after salty, sweet, bitter and sour), umami, which is found in foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed and cured meats.

It is perhaps my deep love for both umami and salt that means plane food tastes like nectar to me – I’ve never much liked sweet things so salty, spicy pasta, a rich beef curry or even a mustard-filled, mushroom risotto are much more to my taste.

My other theory is that my appetite for in-flight meals is partly a reprieve from boredom.

I see it this way: when you’re stuck at 35,000ft, there’s not much to break up the journey.

That’s where the airplane food comes in, in all its glory. 

An hour or so after take-off you’re being offered a choice of dishes, your hot drinks are served and, eventually, your tray is placed on your table for you to unwrap and discover the treasure that lies under the tin foil.

It makes an hour feel like minutes as you happily tuck in before the tray is taken away and you’re bored again (and wish there was another plane meal to come). 

Sometimes, on extra-long flights, there is! Such joy.

‘But it’s so bland,’ I hear you shout. ‘And the bread is dry and the meat… mysterious’.

Well, I’ve never thought so – especially if you have ever tried the options that are served when flying long-haul far from home.

I’ll admit that my love of a sad English breakfast, often served in a metal tub, might also come from my memories of flights as a child and a misplaced nostalgia for family holidays. 

But, I doubt many would turn their noses up at Thai basil chicken from Thai Airways, vegetable crepes on an Emirates jet or crab and shrimp glass noodles with VietJet.

You might disagree with me, but at the end of the flight I’m always full and happy. 

Plus, you can always pass your tray over and I’ll finish that off, too. 

Now, admit it… I can’t be the only person to love plane food.

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