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Why does airplane food taste so bad?

Anyone who’s ever flown will most likely agree that airplane food (at least in economy) is absolutely terrible. Not many people say “wow, I can’t wait to get my airplane meal!” OK, there might be one or two, but why does airline food taste so bad?

When given the option between fish, beef, chicken, or pasta; I don’t think it makes a difference. The complimentary food is consistently bland and unappetizing but it’s not like the airlines are purposely trying to ruin the flying experience for you. It turns out, it may have nothing to do with them at all.

The science of food

The environment we’re in makes a huge difference in how we perceive taste, so when we’re 35,000 feet in the air, our senses can be shocked.

“When you’re in the air, cabin pressure can reduce your taste by as much as 30%” says Nutritionist and Author, Rose Reisman of “The air in the cabin can also dry up and cool food quickly, making it taste as if it’s been left out for too long.”

airplane food

Our taste buds essentially go numb when we’re in a pressurized cabin. It’s similar to when we have colds. We know the food we’re eating is the same, it just doesn’t taste as good since our senses are shot. The overall eating experience just isn’t the same.

It doesn’t help that airlines have strict guidelines to follow. Airline food is manufactured by large companies that supply many different companies, but they need to factor in the challenges with packaging, chilling, drying and storing food. Cooking the meals are also a concern, flights don’t exactly have a restaurant-grade kitchen onboard (well at least not the planes most people fly with).

The nutritional value of airplane food

Depending on the airline and the class of our ticket, the meals served may actually be amazing, unfortunately for most of us, our only option is to “enjoy” the meals provided by the airlines.

There’s a lot to be said about the nutritional value. Manufacturers try their best to make the meals tasty and appealing, but it can be hard to keep those meals healthy at the same time.

“If foods are smothered in heavy sauces that are cheese, cream or butter-based, they help improve the foods taste and moisture level, but adds excessively to calories, fat and saturated fat” says Reisman. “Also airplane food is often highly seasoned with salt or sauces that contain MSG, adding to a major sodium overload.”

There’s only so much an airline can do since they’re either reheating or finishing the cooking process of the prepared meals.

Looking for a healthy alternative

It is possible to pack your own healthy snacks before getting on the plane, but keep in mind that when you cross international borders, security and customs are very strict about the type of food you can carry on. A much safer alternative is to purchase a prepared meal from one of the stores near your gate.

Salads with lean protein are a great way to keep you fueled without sacrificing flavor. Keep in mind that some salad dressings aren’t exactly healthy so limit the use or look for a low-fat flavor. Fruit, yogurt, and sandwiches made with 100% whole grain bread with lots of vegetables are also great choices if you want to completely avoid airplane food.