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Why Does Airline Food Taste So Bad? Turns Out, It’s All Your Fault

If the thought of having to eat a meal on a long flight makes you shudder, you aren’t alone.  Many travellers find airline food to be dull, tasteless, and borderline disgusting.  In fact, airline food is often listed alongside long wait times at security, dealing with traffic at the airport, and lost luggage as one of the worst things about travelling.

For many years, people assumed that it was the airline’s fault.  After all, they are responsible for making and serving the meals, so they must be picking the worst food to serve.  But this simply isn’t true.

We will explore why airline food tastes so bad for some people when they are flying.

Photo credit: Jun Seita on

It Isn’t the Airline’s Fault – It is Your Body’s Fault

Airline food doesn’t taste bad because the airlines purposely choose a poor menu.  No – it tastes bad because there are actual physical changes that happen to your body while you are flying in a plane.

There is a bunch of science behind what happens to your body when it flies, but it can simply be summed up as – you lose your sense of taste.  When you are flying, you literally lose your ability to taste certain flavours, such as salt and sweets.  Losing this ability causes you to feel that the food you are eating is flavourless and dull.

You lose your ability to taste things when you fly because of the cabin pressure and dry air.  The combination of these two factors causes your body to numb your taste buds.  Numbed taste buds will make you unable to taste the food you are eating.

This means you could be served a 5-star dish from a gourmet restaurant and it might still taste dull and flavourless if you are eating it on a plane.

Food Preparation Plays a Huge Role in How Airline Food Tastes

Even though your bad airline food can be blamed on your numb taste buds that doesn’t mean the airlines are completely blameless.  Airlines can be blamed because food preparation plays a huge role in how the airline food tastes.

Most airlines essentially serve re-heated food to their passengers.  This isn’t because they don’t want their passengers to have access to the best food.  It is a space issue.  Most planes, especially older planes, don’t have the room or the capabilities to have a kitchen on board.  This means the only way to serve food is if it is reheated.

The food preparation procedures for airlines looks a little like this.

First, airlines will prepare the food off-site.  The food is usually prepared and cooked by caterers at the airport or a central food preparation hub.

After the caterers prepare the meal, it is then chilled.  Chilling the food allows the airline to properly store and serve it when it is time to eat, but this is the step that causes problems for people.

Chilled food needs to be reheated.  Unfortunately, reheated food has been scientifically proven to taste different than fresh food.  This means, the food might have tasted great when it was prepared at the airport, but because it has been reheated, it has lost some of its flavouring and may even have a different texture.

Next time you are about to take a trip and you realise that you may have to eat a meal on the flight just remember – it isn’t the airline’s fault your food tastes bad.  Blame science because it is the fault of the reheating process and the effects of cabin pressure/cool air on the plane.

The alternative is to indulge in a gourmet meal exquisitely prepared fresh by an on-board chef.  This is now a common option in many first class cabins.

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