What’s The Deal With Airline Food? Chef & Travel Expert Explains

As a chef, I understand that cooking food to be served at high altitudes is probably more than just a challenging task. The difference in air pressure and humidity can affect the taste and texture of food, making it dry and bland.

To counteract this, airline food is often prepared with more salt and flavors to make it taste better.

However, this can be a double-edged sword as too much salt and spices can cause dehydration and bloating, leading to discomfort during the flight.

Read on to discover the science behind airline food when I interviewed a travel and airline expert.

The Science Behind Airline Food Explained By Experts

Food on Swiss Air - it's pretty dang good!
Food on Swiss Air – it’s pretty dang good!

According to travel expert Hans Mast from Golden Rule Travel, “good airline food is spiced more aggressively because our taste buds are less sensitive in the air due to pressure and humidity.”

A study conducted by German airline, Lufthansa, found that our taste buds’ sensitivity decreases by 30% when flying at high altitudes.

That even includes champagne, when you pop a bottle open at 30,000ft, it doesn’t taste like it does on the ground! Probably for the best it’s free if you’re flying business!

This means that the food needs to be prepared with stronger flavors to be noticed by our taste buds.

Additionally, “the dry air in the cabin can make our noses congested, making it harder to smell the food, further affecting the taste”, explains Hans.

AirlineCuisine/HighlightsPopular Dish
Singapore AirlinesInternational gourmet mealsHainanese Chicken Rice
EmiratesMulti-course fine dining experienceLamb Biryani
Turkish AirlinesTurkish and international cuisineMeze Platter
Qatar AirwaysAward-winning meals and diverse menuGrilled Salmon with Couscous
Cathay PacificCantonese and international flavorsDim Sum Sampler
Japan AirlinesAuthentic Japanese cuisineSushi and Sashimi
Air FranceFrench culinary delightsCoq au Vin
Etihad AirwaysGlobal cuisine with Arabian influenceChicken Machbous
QantasAustralian flavors and winesBarramundi with Quinoa Salad
Thai AirwaysTraditional Thai dishesPad Thai
Swiss AirlinesTraditional Swiss cuisineVeal Fillet

The Evolution of Airline Food – How It Has Changed For The Better!

In the past, airline food was notoriously bad, with pre-packaged meals of questionable quality and taste.

However, in recent years, airlines have been stepping up their game, investing more in the quality and variety of in-flight meals.

For example, Emirates Airlines offers up to 20 meal choices for business and first-class passengers, including regionally-inspired dishes curated by top chefs.

JetBlue also partners with notable chefs for its Mint class passengers, offering farm-to-table meals with sustainable ingredients.


Why Does Airline Food Taste Different From Restaurant Food?

The cabin pressure and altitude in airplanes affect our taste buds’ sensitivity, and the dry air in the cabin affects our ability to smell the food, making it appear blander. As a result, airline food is often prepared with stronger flavors and spices.

Can Airplane Food Cause Discomfort During The Flight?

Yes. Airline food is often high in salt and spices, which can cause dehydration and bloating, leading to discomfort during the flight.

Has Airline Food Quality Improved In Recent Years?

Yes. Airlines are investing more in the quality and variety of in-flight meals, offering regionally-inspired dishes curated by top chefs and sustainable, farm-to-table options for premium passengers.


Airline food has come a long way from its pre-packaged, tasteless past. While the challenges of cooking for high altitudes remain, airlines are continuously improving the quality and variety of in-flight meals.

So, next time you fly, try the airline food with an open mind, and who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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Norah Clark

Norah Clark

Norah Clark, the founder and editor of YummyTasteFood! She's a seasoned food writer and editor with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry as a former pastry chef, sous chef, and barista. When not writing about food, she explores new recipes or travels the world for culinary inspiration.

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