How To Make The Most Of Airline Food

How To Make The Most Of Airline Food

Airline food is the butt of endless bad comedy routines, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t maximise the experiencing of dining on a plane. With Qantas upgrading its in-flight meals this week, here’s what’s on offer and how you can get the best from it.


Qantas this week announced that it is going to change its approach to meals on domestic flights, offering a choice of either a boxed meal or a “substantial salad” for lunches and evening meals on longer-haul flights and all flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Australian Business Traveller reports that the serves offered will also be larger.

Qantas is one of the two domestic airlines which offers free food routinely on all flights; prior to this change it only offered a single choice. If you fly outside of mealtimes, you’ll usually get a snack and a drink. Virgin Australia offers free basic meals on east coast and WA flights. On Jetstar or Tiger, you’ll be paying for any drinks or snacks you want. (Flying in business class invariably gets you a free meal).

Most international flights from Australia will offer a meal service, though again discount airlines may charge you for the privilege. Some of them require you to order meals in advance, which at least ensures you’ll get the option you want.

Whoever you’re flying with, follow these general tips for a better food experience.

Plan for what will happen

Establish what meal options will be available (paid or otherwise) and whether you care. On a brief flight between Sydney and Melbourne, you might be more concerned with getting work done than chowing down a snack. Conversely, you might plan to eat on a flight so as to save time on the ground. On an international flight, eating a meal helps pass the time — but you might prefer not to be interrupted if you’re on an overnight trip and want to sleep. So plan your meals as part of your flight schedule. Don’t make them an afterthought.

Sit towards the front

Even in the context of scoring a free meal, it’s nice to have a choice if it’s available. Your chances of that happening will be greatly increased if you’re seated towards the front of the plane, since service generally starts at the front and works backwards. (On larger planes for international flights, there may be multiple crews, but sitting towards the front is still a sensible principle.)

You can maximise your chances of scoring a good seat by checking in online as soon as the option is available. Higher-status fliers will be able to pick seats ahead of time, while some bargain airlines will also let you choose seats in advance for a fee.

Choose a special meal on international flights

If you have specific dietary requirements (such as vegetarian, vegan, low-salt, kosher or halal) then make sure you lodge that request at the time of booking. One bonus of ordering special meals is that you’ll usually score your meal before the main service.

Pack your own

If you’re particularly finicky in your food choices, or don’t see the point in paying over the odds for a bag of crisps, you can take your own food or snacks on board. Some bargain airlines try and argue that this is banned, but in reality you’ll usually be able to get away with it.

For Australian domestic flights, there aren’t any restrictions on liquids you can take on board. For international flights, you can’t travel with liquids over 100ml. Quarantine restrictions will also mean you’ll generally have to dump any food you haven’t eaten on board. Also bear in mind that you can’t take a knife to chop stuff up with.

What foods to take? The obvious choices are fresh fruit (which you won’t often see on a flight anyway) and nuts (compact, filling, high in protein).

What are your best airline food tips? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is always happy when it’s salsa rather than scones. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • Decent airlines will start at the front for one meal service, then start from the back for the next one. Of course this only applies to those extra long flights.

  • I actually really look forward to my airline meals – I really like them. Am I the only one? They’re actually pretty good these days – I remember some the crap you got 30 years ago and it was much worse.

  • If fish is on the menu, it will mean that the other choice will be taken up quickly. I’ve been on many flights – and every single time they have fish as an option they run out of the “other” meal very early. Airlines – get this in your head – NO ONE WANTS THE FISH OPTION.

  • Bagels, if you can get them before a flight, are a great option.
    Again… compact and filling.

    • bagels are great but sometimes it can feel like a decent amount of weight in my stomach after i have one.

  • I work in flight catering, and while I can’t vouch for every airline caterer, the meals we make at our site are usually pretty good. The problem is that, at 30,000+ feet in a low humidity, pressurized cabin, your tastebuds aren’t as effective. Chefs will usually try to compensate for this by heavily salting and spicing the food, and i’ve spent many a lunch break trying not cry while i scoff down some incredibly spicy chicken.
    And as for the Halal special meals, for some airlines (i.e. Emirates, Malaysia), every meal served is Halal certified.

  • Pro tip: ALWAYS order a special meal. You eat first, and whilst its not 100% guarantee, the vast majority of times the food is higher quality than the generic meals. Order ‘Gluten Free’ or ‘Asian Vegetarian’ regardless of it you have Gluten or Vegetarian requirements. They often provide the best tasting meals.

    Aside from these benefits, having a carb heavy meal on a flight where you are sitting for up to 14 hours straight just doesn’t make sense. If you get extra hungry between meals, take some beef jerky, or dried fruit.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!