I just hate it when I’ve had a trip planned for a month but I forget one of the fundamentals of modern travel: Airport food is outrageously priced. Airplane food deserves its reputation. (By the way, I have been lucky enough to fly first class, and while the wine is good and poured way too often, the food can be tasty but can also be not so awesome. I say this in the hopes that it will make you less sad.) So here are a few handy airplane food tips. Because these days, alas, are gone. (Then again….not so alas…)

Found at Travel and Leisure

Airplane Food Tip 1: You’re Kinda Stuck Buying Water

Honestly, you just can’t get around it. It’s criminal. Good water should be available for free. Here in Michigan, please tell that to the fine government who brought you Flint. 


Tap water is ok in some places, terrible in others, and for some crazy reason, amazing in San Francisco. Represent, home state! (I grew up in the Bay Area, for those of you who are confused by that last statement.)

But since plane cabins are so notoriously dry, you need to hydrate. And I personally have to do it before the flight attendant gets to me. Because that doesn’t happen until I’ve done a 30-minute drive to the airport, a 15-30 minute check-in, 45 minutes sitting at the gate, 20-30 minutes waiting for everyone else to get on board, and 20 minutes airborne. I mean, like, add all that up.

So there’s 2 ways around this. The first is to fill your trusty water bottle, drink it on the way to the airport, and then fill it at a drinking fountain. And the other is to resign yourself to spending 4 bucks on a bottle of water once you’re through the TSA checkpoint.

If you have a straight-through flight, you can possibly get by with whatever the flight attendant gives you. (Don’t get airplane ice. Ever. It’s scary.) If you stop at multiple airports, you gotta have a bottle, which you’ll probably have to fill at drinking fountains. I can testify that the ones at the Salt Lake City airport actually deliver really good water. If you have the skinny on any other airports, do share in the comments.

Airplane Food Tip #2: Something Savory That Doesn’t Smell Weird

It’s kind of hard to time airplane eating. Sometimes, particularly with a short flight, you don’t need anything. But if you don’t have any food and you DO get hungry, you’re at their mercy, and at some point those 15 dollar boxes with a container of hummus and 4 olives are going to look really good. Even snacks at one of those magazine stores cost a fortune.

For something simple, super tasty, and filling, I love this chickpea trail mix, courtesy of Bon Appetit. (I’ve posted about them before in this travel/xmas round-up from last year.) You could add a handful of arugula to the container and have a sort of salad. Truthfully, you don’t need dressing, but you do need greens. A day at the airport can be pretty grim healthwise.

airplane food
Photo by Alex Lau for Bon Appetit

In fact, a non-dressed salad, where you sort of use the greens to wrap up the more interesting stuff, works nicely on a plane. Not messy—dressing dripping on your swell airplane duds is a drag—and more importantly not stinky.

I beg you: Keep your fellow travelers in mind. I ardently believe that we all become like pregnant women in the close quarters of an airplane, with super-duper hyper-attenuated olfactory powers. Salad dressing that would tempt diners to your table at home can completely stink up your plane row as well as the ones fore and aft. Case in point: A nice man who sat on my row opened up a bag of something redolent of garlic and tomatoes. I seriously feared I would puke. And I LIKE garlic and tomatoes. Just, please. Also, I immediately changed my mind about him being nice. Don’t subject a stranger to strong smells. Your charming Salad Niçoise or California Roll reeks beyond funky aboard Delta 153 (or whoever and wherever you choose to fly).

With all that in mind, grown up lunchables are super easy to pack—think low-key bento box. Make your guacamole or hummus easy on the garlic, throw in a few crackers and raw veggies, add a little fruit.

If you need ideas (and I always do), this post from The Everygirl features links to all sorts of cute little packable lunches. Even better, some of the linked links link to even more links. Take, for example, the source of the pic below, Yumbox, who even sells adorable bento boxes and has tons of ideas for how to fill them.

airplane food
From (as you can see) Yumbox

I need to do this instead of spending 20 for a tasty but…seriously, 20 bucks for a California roll? Am I INSANE? Although, to be honest, I partly ate this because I wanted to sit down at a restaurant, in which case, mission accomplished. And it was tasty. But 20 bucks. Yeesh.

Airplane Food Tip 3: Something Sweet

Those adorable little packages of cookies that are so hellish on the environment (the packaging, not so much the cookies, which just make you feel gross) cost approximately one million dollars at your basic airport kiosk. Ok, I’m embroidering a bit. Or lying. But they are some stupidly expensive amount. Make your own cookie. I’m a biscotti fan myself. I dry them out so they’re crispy but not jawbreakers, something I only know how to do because last time, I did make jawbreakers. (They do become perfect when dipped in coffee.) These are a weird green color because our matcha tea has turmeric in it, but they are still super tasty and I completely followed this recipe from Cooking Light.

airplane food

I also really like these Stevia chocolate bars from Lily’s Sweets. Unlike most things connected to the word Stevia, these don’t taste like b.s. They’re also minimally sweet, which is nice and keeps you from bingeing them. I wait for them to go on sale at Whole Foods, which seems to happen pretty frequently. But even without the sale, they’re not close to the rip-off that is a Kit Kat bar at the airport.

airplane food

Other good choices are those super healthy fig bars, or an apple or grapes wrapped in bubble wrap or, for the exceedingly virtuous, a couple of carrots, which are sweet and crunchy and might be just the nice little delight you crave to put a button on your meal.

Airplane Food Tip 4: Bring a Scarf

For some bizarre reason, your plane neighbor may not have read this post. S/he or they may have brought stinky food. I cannot tell you the number of times discreetly pulling my scarf up over my nose has saved me—not just from my row-mates’ bad food choices, but from the occasional and dreaded airplane or airport fart. Also, on the ghastly, fortunately rare but real occasions when that airplane fart issued forth from moi—well, what better cover than to pull, with slightly less discretion, that scarf up under one’s nose, not trying too hard to disguise the look of horror in one’s still visible eyes? It’s as handy as blaming the dog.

Travel prepared, my friends. And if you can spread the gospel of non-stinky, affordable, infinitely healthier and tastier travel food, consider me thanked.


One thought on “Airplane Food: How to Prepare with Flair

  1. Funny, Nan! Although I never fly (yep, 34 hours on the road to get to Boston and back last trip!), I enjoyed every word of this humorous and informative post. And in the event that I do eventually take a plane, I really shouldn’t eat because my stomach will be somersaulting with every benign lurch of the airborne vehicle. Nevertheless, I will consult your tips again before I go!

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