For all the amazing and awe-inspiring aspects of flying, it’s safe to say that airline food has never been one of them. Whether you frequently fly in an economy or business class, you’ll probably be well aware that in-flight food, in general, is not always the best. In fact, in some cases, it can be the most unpleasant part of the whole experience. A stale bread roll and a pot of what looks vaguely like cold beef stew are usually what’s on the menu, and it usually tastes worse than it looks.
But maybe we should give airlines a break. After all, it can take a lot of money and effort to serve up tasty grub to 100-plus passengers at 35,000 ft. Sensing that some travelers expect more than a bowl of cold stew on a lengthy flight, a few airline companies have gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to in-flight catering by creating high-altitude dishes that could impress even the toughest food critics.
Restaurant-level food may not be what you’d associate with airline grub, but the following airlines have stepped up to the plate (sorry) and delivered the kind of menu that could even rival their land-based eateries for quality and variety. From beef tenderloin and fine cheeses to luxe desserts, here are 20 in-flight menus that won’t have you reaching for the sick bag.
20 Emirates – Premium Canapés And Charcoal-Grilled Lamb
From the economy grub to the first-class stuff, Emirates isn’t the type of airline to skimp on the food it serves up, depending on cabin class. The Dubai-based travel company is well-known for its luxury services and top-drawer hospital on board so it shouldn't surprise many people to know that this is reflected in their on-board menus too.
Economy meals include charcoal-grilled lamb brochette in cinnamon sauce while business class passengers can enjoy topnotch canapés in the on-board lounge.
If you fly in first, leave room for a seven-course meal in your own private dining suite, and what’s more, even your serving platters will be high-quality. While most airlines serve food in plastic or melamine trays, Emirates goes one step further with their presentation by serving up all their business and first class meals on Royal Doulton fine bone china. Swish!
19 United Airlines – Breakfast Entrée Of Steak Tenderloin
United Airlines may have its criticism when it comes to some aspects of their service, but as far as in-flight food goes, the US airline company serves up some pretty decent food and some more than decent if you’re willing to upgrade to business class. Economy passengers on United are served with hot food, but this is unfairly restricted to certain flight routes. Flying United in business class, on the other hand, will guarantee you good quality, restaurant-worthy meal options that offer a little more variety.
If you’re taking a long morning flight, then their extensive breakfast platter won’t disappoint–grilled steak tenderloin with scrambled eggs, asparagus, and potatoes. Yum. As for traditional three courses, smoked salmon starters with fruit dressing, grilled chicken mains, and a simple but comforting selection of ice creams drenched in hot chocolate sauce is also on the menu. A walk-up bar is usually available near the rear of the plane, offering a selection of wines and spirits to wash it all down with.
18 Air New Zealand – Red Wine Braised Beef With Polenta
Other than prioritizing the comfort and overall well-being of their passengers, Air New Zealand also offers up outstanding service when it comes to their in-flight food. Unless you’re on a domestic flight throughout the country, the majority of travelers are faced with what can be a long and arduous journey, and there’s nothing more comforting on a super long-haul flight than having a satisfying meal to lift your spirits.
Luckily, for all passengers on board (yes, economy and first class), Air New Zealand’s sumptuous menu is courtesy of the much-celebrated chef, Peter Gordon.
Gordon has restaurants in Auckland and London and is dedicated to providing a first-rate dining experience for everyone on board. A standout dish is his red wine braised beef main course served with blue cheese polenta and green beans. Protein is key on a long flight, and this is a pretty yummy example of it!
17 Cathay Pacific – Slow-Cooked Pork And Hong Kong-Style Curry Prawns
Keen to give passengers a wide variety of in-flight meals to choose from, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific airlines dedicate themselves to providing the best in Chinese cuisine across all classes on board. In economy class, for example, flyers can enjoy true Hong Kong-style curry chicken served with Jasmine rice and a tasty tub of Haagendaz for dessert. Elsewhere in first class, passengers are treated to a carefully-selected premium menu that includes signature dishes like slow-cooked pork with preserved Hakka green beans and traditional curry prawns.
Flying with Cathay Pacific is like experiencing a pit-stop celebration of China, thanks to its dedicated culinary team on board. Fun fact: Cathay Pacific was one of the first airlines in the world to have toasters and rice cookers on board to ensure that traditional Chinese cuisine could be served to the passengers' liking.
16 Austrian Airlines – Beautifully-Presented Breakfast And 11 Types Of Meinl Coffee
Austria is renowned for its fine pastries and desserts. And luckily for anyone flying with them, they have brought the best of their irresistible sweet treats 35,000 ft high with the help of their on-board catering company, DO & CO. This particular in-flight catering service brings together some of the best restaurants and cafe menus in Vienna, London, and New York to give passengers an exciting and varied menu that stays true to Austrian roots.
Whether you need a square meal to see you through a long day's worth of traveling or commuting or just a quick pick-me-up, Austrian Airlines don’t disappoint
(and they certainly don’t do anything by halves when it comes to serving a great morning coffee either). Need a caffeine hit on your journey? You’ll be given a choice of 11 varieties of the finest Julius Meinl coffee. Breakfast also comes as sweet or as hearty and wholesome as you’d like including comforting marzipan waffles and cakes and meat and cheese deli platters with eggs.
15 Swiss International – Homemade Muesli And Crème Brülée Cheesecake
Onboard Swiss Airlines, you’re treated to a themed menu which allows you to sample all the greatest foods from different regions in Switzerland. Something their passengers praise time and time again about their in-flight menu is the fact that they can select from a specialty ‘Taste of Switzerland’ program, which includes Nidwalden-style potatoes, Alpstein chicken, and their iconic Bircher muesli named after the Swiss physician and nutritionist, Bircher-Benner, who popularized it.
On the subject of muesli, Swiss International is renowned for serving up some of the finest in-flight breakfasts and sweet treats that planes could ever offer. So even if you’re traveling on a short morning flight, you can be sure they’ve got the most important meal of the day sorted for you in delectable Swiss style. Choose from artisanal yogurt and fresh fruit platters for something healthy or sample their amazing crème brülée cheesecake for a naughty mid-morning snack.
14 American Airlines – Braised Pork Belly And Caviar
The main rival company of United Airlines offers similarly well-cooked comfort food with more of a premium slant when it comes to its business class menu. As part of the Flagship First food menu on board American airlines, business passengers can expect to have caviar and gazpacho with sides of beetroot chips and olives for starter snacks.
Main courses, meanwhile, can consist of Duck Confit pot pie and a favorite dish of slow-braised pork belly and lamb dishes.
Flying with American Airlines may not guarantee the kind of gourmet quality dishes of other flight companies on this list, but the menu offers as close to a fine dining experience as you might find in any steakhouse or five-star bistro. If you like simple and unfussy comfort food with a little-added extra in your in-flight meal, American definitely delivers.
13 Singapore Airlines - Option To Pre-Book Gourmet Dishes
Even in economy class, a flight on Singapore Airlines doesn’t have to mean average plane grub. When it comes to in-flight food options, these guys push the boat out to make sure passengers have a more varied mile-high dining experience. The on-board economy menu boasts things like baby shrimp salad and entrees of wok-fried chicken and bamboo shoots—a far cry from what you’d usually expect for the price!
And to fly business class or higher with Singapore, these added touches just get better and better. Upon arriving in first class, expect to be greeted with a glass of Vintage Dom Perignon. As for food? The airline’s ‘Book the Cook’ service lets you pick out your gourmet meal a day in advance of your flight from a premium selection of dishes. Nice.
12 Thai Airways – Lobster And Glass Noodles Pad Thai
As part of its ‘Royal First’ taste experience, Thai Airways doesn’t hold back from serving up some of the best examples of Asian cuisine and ensures that the food is always presented in a luxury fashion. What’s more is that Thai Airways even lets passengers personalize their in-flight dining experience by offering a pre-ordering service to ensure every last course is to their liking.
Choose between sumptuous meals that include Lobster Thermidor served with Duchess potato or for a smaller but equally satisfying dish, try out their Glass Noodles Pad Thai option wrapped in an egg omelet salad.
Proof positive that the basic dishes on Thai airways are just as much of a hit with passengers, world-class chef Ken Hom is just as impressed by the airline's more modest offering of simple noodle broth and said, “The best plane food I’ve had was simple Asian noodles with broth on Thai Airways. It’s light, satisfying and perfect for a flight.”
11 All Nippon Airways – Bamboo Shoot Steak And Grilled Conger Eel
All Nippon (or ANA) is Japan’s largest and most popular airline. And while that could be down to many factors–the ultra-comfy seating, the incredible legroom, and the tirelessly friendly staff–we think it could be down to their carefully-planned menus and attention to detail when it comes to catering for each and every class of passenger on board.
In fact, in 2013, ANA held a menu ‘election’ across their social media platforms inviting potential passengers to vote for their favorite meals. So now from soups and sides to mains, like their special grilled conger eel or bamboo shoot steak with ratatouille, travelers have called the shots and it tastes pretty darn good! The Austrian chef and official caterer for the Academy Awards, Wolfgang Puck, has also sung All Nippon’s praises before, describing one flight where he enjoyed a sushi picnic and champagne as his hands-down “favorite plane journey ever.”
10 Qatar Airways – Dishes Adapted To Customers' Taste Buds
If this doesn’t sound infinitely better than restaurant quality, then we’re not sure what does. After all, how many restaurants do you know where the menu actually caters to the individual taste buds of its customers? An interesting fact about air travel is that when we’re up in excess of 35,000 feet, our taste buds actually change. The low humidity and air pressure of the plane cabin dry out our nasal passages to dampen our sense of smell and taste. This is why most airlines have hot, spicy dishes on the menu, but this doesn’t have to be for every passenger, and Qatar Airways is making sure of it!
Qatar Airways brings together some of the finest chefs to create and constantly adapt dishes according to which flavors and unique spices work best at high altitudes.
Because they are constantly altering and improving the menu, you’re always guaranteed to get something different each time.
9 Scandinavian Airlines – Norwegian Fjord Salmon And Handmade Chocolates
Fresh and locally-sourced ingredients are a top priority when it comes to food on Scandinavian airlines. In fact, the food quality and presentation is to such a high standard when on board with them that many passengers with them have compared the experience to dining in an actual factual trendy Scandinavian eatery.
Nik Loukas, author of the site InflightFeed and ex-crew member on Qantas Airways, has spent years sampling the best and worst of airline food. And, the Scandinavian Airline menu is among the finest. He noted that dining in business class lets you pick and choose from a sumptuous buffet trolley and that the whole thing was like “dining in a cool restaurant.” High praise indeed. Putting a spin on the way the food is served too, SA has swapped out the usual airline trays with an artsy cube box, giving things a hipster twist while keeping with a Nordic sense of minimalist style and design.
8 Alaska Airlines – Cascade Brisket Chili
Onboard Alaska airlines, passengers are able to enjoy the perfect mix of quality comfort food (think McDonald's, but more gourmet) and impressively locally-inspired dishes that celebrate the best in West Coast dining. For flights of 2.5 hours and longer, travelers can sample an interesting range of snacks and rich mains depending on their appetite. No dull bar snacks and nuts here. Passengers can have their pick of themed ‘cabin picnic packs’ ranging from Mediterranean tapas to beef jerky and Northwest Deli snacks.
As for mains, the options include comforting Angus cheeseburgers, coconut chicken, and the chef’s signature dish of cascade brisket chili. The chef in question is Seattle-based Tom Douglas, a three-time recipient of the US James Beard award for culinary excellence. Need we say more?
7 Etihad Airways – An Extensive Michelin Star Grill Menu
If you’re a fan of your grilled cuisine on the ground, then you’ll easily fall in love with what Etihad has to offer at high altitude. Etihad Airways boasts a whole variety of premium meats cooked to perfection in the quality of Michelin star restaurant, so you can really make believe that you’re at your favorite bar and grill back home. And when it comes to flying, it’s nice to have all the comfort you can get.
For meat-loving passengers on board Etihad’s first class cabin, the airline’s ‘Mezoon Grille’ menu will leave them pretty spoiled for choice.
Premium beef cuts, tender lamb, chicken, and a whole host of grilled seafood dishes and delicate sauces that are prepared fresh and onsite? We bet your mouth’s watering just reading this, isn’t it?
6 Qantas Airlines – Rockpool Bar & Grill-style Dining
If you’re familiar with the quirky British celebrity Chef, Heston Blumenthal, then you’ll know that his culinary style can be quite experimental, to say the least (a few of his specialties over the years have included liquid nitrogen ice cream, edible fairy lights, and fish eyeball cocktail!). However, when it comes to eating and flying, the renowned chef prefers to keep things surprisingly conservative where airline food is concerned.
Food-wise, Blumenthal’s favorite airline to travel with is Qantas and the seasonally-inspired Rockpool steak by Aussie chef Neil Perry is a firm favorite. Of course, enjoying a restaurant food as a chef brings out a natural curiosity in some people, as even Heston admits to, saying, “I’m like a big kid. I don’t want to sleep because there’s too much I could eat. Sometimes, I’ll be a real pain and go into the kitchen to see how my steak is being cooked.”
5 Air Europa – Farmer’s Market-Style Fresh Produce
Fresh food isn’t something every flyer would associate with airline food, but Spain’s Air Europa airline really does go all out to make sure their passengers get a wholly fresh and high-quality dining experience. As confirmed by the online food critic and one-time cabin crew member on Qantas airlines, Nik Loukas, Air Europa’s menu boasts a rainbow of healthy food options and plenty of freshly-made sweet treats too.
Giving his in-flight Air Europa meal an impressive score of 9.2 on his review site Inflightfeed, Loukas praised the airline for their wholly “fresh and creative” menu options and compared it to the kind of produce you’d find at a local farmers market instead of a steel tube at 35,000 ft! “It’s probably the most amazing business class meal I’ve received in Europe,” he gushed on his Instagram post, “So fresh and unique!”
4 Turkish Airlines – Turkish Meze And Assorted Cheese Plates
Creating a restaurant-style vibe aboard Turkish airlines is about more than just the food, it’s also about creating the atmosphere and look of a typical Turkish restaurant on the ground too. Business class passengers on board their airline can expect to be greeted at the cabin door of the plane by a neatly-dressed chef as if they were being shown to their seat (although in this case, you have your plane tickets for that).
Then, to complete the experience, complementary snacks and drinks are offered to each passenger as a starter before their mains arrive. The exquisite Turkish menu is, as expected, prepared entirely from scratch. This includes every meal from the breakfast cheese platters through to traditional Turkish meze for lunch and beyond. Every dish is presented beautifully too. Perfection.
3 Delta Airlines – Frozen Yogurt Bars And Pan-Seared Cod
America’s Delta airlines have long been criticized for their relatively lackluster choice and quality of airline food, but in recent years, the airline company has really upped its game when it comes to impressive in-flight meals. Delta has a long rivalry with United Airlines and this is thought to be one of the reasons for the improved menu over the past few years.
Delta is now focused on working with high-quality ingredients as well as offering passengers meal upgrades to ensure a more personalized dining experience.
Another welcome part of this overhaul to Delta’s in-flight food is the airline’s reintroduction of free domestic meals in economy class. If you don’t wish to upgrade to business class for pan-seared cod mains, the budget option will get you a range of complimentary sandwiches and delicious frozen yogurt bars.
2 Air France – Foie Gras And Vintage Bordeaux
Whether you visit a modest street bakery in the South of France or the finest Parisian restaurant, it’s fair to say that French cuisine always holds itself to a very high standard, and this means that even its airline food is no exception. Even economy class passengers get to revel in all the glories of an Air France menu since diners can take their pick of sweet pastries and chocolates from the snack carts in the plane galleys.
In true French cuisine fashion, the presentation takes almost as much preference over the food being served. So if you fly with Air France, expect the urge to want to snap the gorgeously-arranged cheeses and dessert plates for your Instagram stories later. Luxury French staples are also on board for business and first class flyers, including servings of Foie gras and a Vintage Bordeaux to wash it all down.
1 Hawaiian Airlines – On The Rocks Cocktails And Loco Moco
The state of Hawaii is known for its color, vitality, and also the layering friendliness of the locals. So naturally, they also wanted to include all these elements in their airline services. Case in point, Hawaiin Airlines is one of the few US domestic airline companies still serving complimentary hot meals as part of the economy package, and even then, they don’t skimp on the quality of care that goes into it.
Budget Hawaiian flyers can have the opportunity to enjoy a signature Hawaiian dish, Loco Moco, free of charge.
This is a gravy-drenched hamburger patty on a bed of steamed rice and a sunny-side-up egg! And if you wish to go for more fancy grub than classic and comforting, how about Acorn squash served with Hawaiian taro rice? Wash it all down with their own premium on the rocks cocktails like Mai Tai and Lychee Vodka. Delish!