The rise and fall of economy airline food

We all know how it was when aviation was relatively new, with full dining service with proper tables and tablecloths, but why has it become like school food? (If you are not from the UK, and it isn’t similar to how it is here wherever you are, UK school food is meant to be awful)

Passengers onboard german zeppelins could be seen being served with champagne as early as 1914, with onboard kitchens being introduced onboard larger airships in the 1920s. Of course, zeppelins and airships were way more stable than today’s modern jet airliners as they mostly stayed level even during takeoff and landing, as they didn’t need a large amount of speed you get from roaring down a runway to takeoff. If you stuck one of those kitchens on a modern Airbus A320neo, you would likely have pots and pans flying everywhere during takeoff and landing, and let’s not forget the age amount of turbulence you could have during a flight…

LZ 129 Hindenburg - Wikipedia
Credit: Wikipedia

Sure enough, even though it seemed a terrible idea at the time, KLM installed a galley on one of its aircraft. 15 minutes later, it senger when the vibrations of the aircraft shook the screws holding the galley to the plane loose. Lufthansa was the first airline to ever serve hot meals to its passengers in 1928. But imagine breathing cabin air that was full of the smell of oil in bumpy air, you’re bound to be sick, right? And most passengers were one of the reasons why it’s easier to premake the food on the ground instead of actually on the aircraft itself.

Experiencing a flight on board a Dakota DC3

As the aircraft became bigger and more modern, the food became worse for economy passengers. If you think about it, on a modern Airbus A350-900, you can seat around 350 passengers, if you’re flying from London to Madrid (British Airways and Iberia do operate this route) it would probably take longer for a handful of chefs to cook 350 meals than the duration of the flight! Now think about it this way, you can get a large microwave-type oven that can cook about 50 meals in 5 minutes. You can now get the whole plane served in under 40 minutes if you premake the meals on the ground and then stick them in the oven during the flight. Due to the fact, there is a large oven door, it would largely prevent the cabin from smelling of cooking ingredients and so would therefore cure the passengers being a sick problem. And yes, you may be thinking: “Hold on, didn’t Pan Am deliver better airline food and they even used 747s when they did it?”. The large fact is, cooking meals on airplanes is expensive… You can’t just pay to build a normal kitchen, you have to pay to get a special kitchen with LOTS of extra screws. As for Pan Am, they went bust so that kind of proves my point.

Airline food used to be different from how it is today but is that a good thing? Well, unless you wanted to eat your great 1930s airline food and then throw up all over your seat, I’d probably say yes…


  • The Big book of flight by Rowland White
  • (Cover Photo)

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