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How Healthy is Airline Food?

What are you eating when you fly? Skyscanner Australia take a look at how airline food is prepped and how to gets on your in-flight tray table, and then what things you can do to keep your digestive system feeling as chipper as possible.

Flying can be tough on your body, and not just because of lack of sleep! Your gut health can take a hit too (thanks a lot, altitude), so we want to be as kind as possible when we fly with what we choose to eat.

How is airline food prepared?

The first thing to know is that your in-flight meals aren’t prepared on the plane, they’re prepped beforehand at a catering company. Airline companies like Emirates prepare up to 20,000 meals a day in their catering facility in Dubai. Hygiene is strictly observed, with employees required to wear hair nets and gloves. They even have an air-shower for staff to step into which removes miscellaneous items, such as hair, dust, or fluff.

Catering facilities like this one will also require fruits and vegetables to be security scanned, and perishables must be used within a couple of days. Then the food is cooked at specific temperatures, so that it can be reheated without causing damage to the food or run the risk of creating an environment for harmful bacteria.

Are airlines meals still fresh?

Yes, fresher than a lot of pre-prepared meals you’ll buy in supermarkets or at airport shops. Airline meals are typically created and served within a 72 hour time-frame.

Is there a difference between cabin classes?

There isn’t a difference when it comes to cooking – safety regulations prohibit all airlines from having an open flame onboard. However, you’ll find that first class and business class meals are plated and garnished onboard, whilst economy meals are pre-plated.

Is it true you can’t taste airline food properly?

Your tastebuds aren’t all they could be up in the air, and according to Singapore Airlines’ global director of food, Antony McNeil, this is because you can’t really smell your food properly thanks to your nasal passages being so dry.

However, many airlines are hiring top chefs to create fancy menus so we aren’t faced with tasteless, beige custard-like monstrosities. For instance, British Airways said they like to use mushroom and tomatoes in their meals for that umami flavour-punch. Whilst Emirates loves to add strong citrus flavours like passionfruit or spicy ones found in aromatic curries.

Where can I find the best airline food?

This is a constantly changing list, thanks to airlines vying to woo passengers with their culinary prowess. In 2015, Condé Nast thought Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, and Hawaiian Airlines had some seriously tasty offerings. But only two years later, Skytrax were praising Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways for their delicious in-flight meals.

You’ll also find that lots of airlines have partnered with incredible and well-known chefs to spearhead their menus. Such as Neil Perry for Qantas, Daniel Green for Cathay Pacific and Sam Choy for American Airlines.

How do I keep healthy when eating on a plane?

Whether you just want to look after your gut health, or are worried about how you’re going to fit into your jeans when you land (plane swell is real), there are plenty of ways you can minimise the impact of travelling on your body.

Drink water

Bring a reusable water bottle, and drink like crazy. This will prevent you feeling dehydrated and stop you from getting constipated.

Eat protein

If a big carby pasta meal is going to make you feel uncomfortable and bloated, go for a more protein heavy option. This will fill you up and still give you energy.

Fiber up

That’s right, eat lots of fiber. Eat fruits, grains, seeds and beans. This will keep your gut working smoothly.

Bring snacks

Bringing healthy snacks will stop you chowing down on a mid-flight ice cream. This is also a good tip if you are vegan or vegetarian, as many flights might cater for your main, but not for follow up treats.

Avoid salt

Bring some unsalted nuts with you instead of opening up those plane-pretzels which will make your mouth feel drier than the Sahara in summer.

Watch the beverages

Alcohol and caffeine actually speed up your digestion, which means there’s less time for your body to absorb water. Which means you’ll be dehydrated, and be subject to possible plane diarrhoea.

Make your own

If you’re on a strict diet, there is no harm in making and bringing your own food with you! Be aware this can’t be anything liquid or even spreadable (like peanut butter) if you’re going to make it through security. Also fresh produce like meats and cheeses will have to be consumed on the plane prior to landing at your destination.

Wash your hands

You eat with these bad boys, so keep ‘em clean!


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