In-flight food fails

Passengers share their experiences with airline meals.

Plane fare

Four out of ten passengers on a domestic or overseas flight are still hungry after having a meal on the plane, while 38% of vegetarian and vegan meals were rated "Yuck" or "Super yuck" in a survey of 293 CHOICE members. The findings show there's plenty of room for improvement in economy and business class, with only around 28% of the respondents rating their meals above "Okay".

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Super yuck

More than half of our surveyed members (56%) rated the taste of standard meals as "Okay", 22% as "Yum" and only 6% as "Super yum", while 15% thought it tasted "Yuck" or "Super yuck". We're pretty sure these people rated their meals "Super yuck":

  • "The shepherd's pie looked like the shepherd had thrown up into a box. It tasted almost as good as that too. Thank goodness for the free wine issue and Lindt chocolate mouth swab afterwards. I gargled the Merlot for 20 minutes to rid myself of the flavour."
  • "If you like a fridge-cold banana muffin and dried coconut chips with goji berries, you'll be in heaven. Thankfully we weren't flying that high."

Not even the business class meals escape criticism:

  • "United served me a business class 'fish' meal. It was raw and translucent at one end and the noodles were dark brown and completely dry at the other."

Half of the people eating a vegetarian meal and 40% eating a standard meal felt somewhat hungry or very hungry afterwards, with only 46% of vegetarians satisfied or full after their meal. The most popular tips to avoid starvation or being a victim of sub-par food was to pre-load before the flight and stock up on snacks:

  • "Take your own food. Your own choice of sandwich or roll will be as good as anything the airlines provide unless you fly expensive. Drinks are generally pretty good."
  • "Only offered the sundae trolley which would have been fine if I was a six-year-old. Thank god I always travel with muesli bars."
  • "I always eat before I get on the plane (pre-flight Maccas is a must) – so if the food is awful it doesn't matter TOO much. On long haul flights, stock up on the snack bars in the A380s, they're amazing."
CHOICE members also found it a challenge to get age-appropriate food for their children:
  • "No snack options really available for children, unless you wanted to give them a cookie half the size of their head, covered in Smarties, and then expect them to sit quietly in their seat for the duration of the flight."
  • "My child does not want a smaller version of an adults meal. Airlines do not provide an option to suit young children. I need to pack a separate sandwich for him as he will not eat the meal provided. Why can't they keep the children`s meal simple and supply a more age appropriate meal. A 3-5 year old will generally not eat what a 9-12 year old will."

This also shone through in the latest CHOICE Travel research that found travellers with young children are much more likely to have poor in-flight experiences or not get their meal or seat preferences.

Dietary requirements

38% of passengers having a vegetarian meal rated it as "Yuck" or "Super yuck", while 31% stated it was "Okay" and 27% rated their meals as "Yum" or "Super yum". Some people recommend ordering meals with special dietary requirements because it appears fresher and it's served earlier:

  • "Order a vegetarian or kosher meal – it seems fresher plus you get served first."
  • "I order diabetic meals as I watch my weight and health – though am not diabetic – and it's the best way to get low-sugar, low-fat meals with the most fruit and vegetables. Plus I get served first if I pre-order my food."

But many of those ordering these meals caution against it:

  • "I ordered a vegetarian meal that came out first and sucked. For the regular meals there was a vegetarian option that sounded way better, but because I got my vegetarian meal I couldn't have it."

While the airlines seem to be confused as to exactly what constitutes vegetarian and vegan. Many point out that the portions seemed smaller and weren't just vegetarian, but also vegan or diabetic-friendly, and dairy, salt or gluten free.

  • "As a vegetarian I always seem to get a vegan meal on flights – they lump vegan and vegetarian together, and unfortunately their understanding of how to prepare a satisfying meal for vegans or vegetarians seems to be lacking."
  • "Ordered the vegan option, first meal had a label stating that the noodle dish contained dairy. On both flights my meals were 1–2 portions smaller than everyone else's, and when desserts and snacks were served I wasn't offered any options either."

Perhaps this person summed up the airlines strategy best: 

  • "[It`s] all combined as one alternative bland and tasteless meal that can be served to anyone who picked an alternate [meal]."

Inconsistent service

No one airline stuck out in the survey numbers as having the best or worst meal – so consistency is the key that airlines need to aim for. Some passengers trashed the airline meals:

  • "Qantas food is insulting to passengers, and clearly so bad that I regularly see staff members going to fetch food for themselves from the pointy end of the plane."

Others laud meals from the same airline: 

  • "Qantas food on the long haul international flight was great. And they just kept feeding us. I was pleasantly surprised by the standard."

So if you're worried about what you're going to get with your airline meal, bring snacks, pre-load at the airport (or maybe before, given airport prices), and most importantly of all:

  • "Don't eat everything you are given due to boredom. It will make you sick."