The best airlines for in-flight food

HealthUnited Arab Emirates

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Where is a plane's kitchen? Is the co-pilot the chef? And how on Earth, or crucially so far above it, do you find good in-flight food on a plane?

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  • Which airlines serve the best in-flight food?
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    Which airlines serve the best in-flight food?

    The jury has returned with their verdict and found most airlines guilty of criminal cuisines. But the following ten may just surprise you with their attempt at in-flight gourmet.

  • Thai Airlines
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    Thai Airlines

    With its traditional and international offerings, Thai Airlines stole the number one spot on Skytrax's list.

  • Turkish Airlines
    Lilyana Vynogradova/123RF
    Turkish Airlines

    This airline serves up kebabs, baklava and authentic Mediterranean flavours.

  • Asiana Airlines
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    Asiana Airlines

    Asiana arrived in third place with an exquisite fusion of South Korean and Japanese cuisine

  • Etihad
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    Etihad

    The Middle Eastern airline claimed fourth position, its three-course menu can be bliss

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Well, the simple answer to that last question is that airline food doesn't often work at all. We're not talking about either that squat tube of Pringles, the enemy of any flight attendant charged with cabin sweeping, or the various cans of fizzy pop that drown the salty desert sensation of a Pringles binge. No, we're talking about the pseudo-meal that appears halfway through your long-haul journey. No warmer than a cooling bath, blander than a gluten-free vegan cookie, but who inexplicably carries an aftertaste that will eat into the second week of your holiday, it's often more Bushtucker Trial than Michelin starter.

One can only assume that, given that the plane is unable to take off if all the tray tables are popped up and the armrests popped down, that popping an Aga into the cockpit isn't quite in fitting with airline safety policy. So, we assume that food comes pre-prepared and is either warmed up by an member of cabin crew in the same manner as a chicken incubates her egg, or arrives piping hot and is left to dribble down slowly towards room temperature.

As a general rule, the experience of airline cuisine is at best disappointing. However, this is not necessarily the fault of the provider. In fact, higher altitudes alter both the taste of food and the function of our taste buds; tests have shown that the perception of sweetness and saltiness drops by as much as 30% at high altitudes. What might be exquisite cuisine on the ground slumps into bland, beige mediocrity just a couple of kilometres above it. The mile-high club sandwich, then, is the worst sort of club sandwich imaginable.

It's not simply a question of taste either. To overcome the circumstances above, it is not uncommon for many airline meals to be high in fat, in chemicals, and to be difficult to digest. So, given that sustenance is an essential on most long-haul flights - imagine the animosity of a hundred hungry claustrophobic passengers - what is the answer to this culinary conundrum? That is, aside from the obvious, pack your own lunch.

Well, it seems that after drawn-out criticism, airlines are endeavouring to sort out their game. However, the improvements, predictably, may well be reserved for the most classy of passengers; namely those in business of first-class. Menus for the more polished passenger feature refined and healthier dishes and often plates from a particular region or cuisine as a promotion of international products. There have also been strides forward across the board in catering for dietary requirements as in 2017, it appears, celiac is the new black.

For those mere mortals not touched by the gods of air travel, who lounge happy but hungry in economy, we think we may have found a platform for your airline food issues. The website Airlines Meals provides the largest online photo archive of mile-high dishes, and its gallery will enable you to find the right company for your in-flight food choices before you get poisoned halfway across the Atlantic. It allows your average traveller to separate the proverbial wheat from the proverbial chaff, and your average celiac to separate the actual wheat from the proverbial chaff.

As we all know, or will at some point find out to our cost, looks can be deceiving. Whilst Airlines Meals gives a decent guide for what to expect, we suggest for now, even though things are looking up, stick with your trusty marmite sandwich. Because everyone loves those right? Or is it hate...

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