January 28, 2010

Ask the FA- Special Meals on the Plane

Question:Hi, I have heard that if I order a special meal I will be served first, is this true? Leith

In most cases, what you've heard is correct Leith. Many airlines do serve what we call 'special meals' ahead of the main service, because it's easier for the crew to find the correct person and we won't forget in the rush of attending to the passengers.

On some flights though, depending on passenger load, length of flight or the type of service (a full meal or only a snack service) you may be served along with everyone else.

As for how 'healthy' a meal will be, it really does depend on what the meal consists of. Other factors also come into play, such as how it is made and how long before the flight the meal is made and when it is loaded, that is, how long it is expected to stay fresh and edible even with refrigeration or chillers onboard the plane.

Many airline meals are pre-made, cooked and then deep-frozen, stored for days or possibly weeks ahead of the flight (just like supermarket ready meals). Then they are simply re-heated for 20-30 minutes onboard before being served to the passengers. As altitude can affect the sense of taste, airline meals often contain more salt than other types of food, so you do need to be careful of that. True, there are low-salt, low-fat and other 'special order' meals on some airlines, but they will usually not be as 'healthy' as freshly made food.

Some carriers offer options which are better such as salads, fruit platters and the like, and these can be a good choice, although perhaps a little too light for people who tend to eat a lot. Other airlines have implemented programs with meals approved by health authorities, which have been tested for content with regard to fat, sugar and salt. The best thing to do is contact the airline you are flying with to find out if they have any information regarding the nutritional content of their food, and what kind of pre-order meals are available to you for your flight. Generally in Australia, I've found that pre-packaged foods have better information and labels than the traditional 'hot meals' (which may have little or none aside from generic "May Contain..." text.

Finally, the only way to be sure exactly what it is you are eating (especially if you have allergies or special dietary requirements) is to bring along your own food. While airlines strive to fulfil special meal requests, mistakes do happen, and it's always a good thing to have something with you that is suitable to your needs which you can eat. Chances are, it'll be something you'd rather eat anyway! (When bringing your own food, be sure to check if this is allowed, as some low-cost carriers do not allow you to carry certain foods onboard.)

Of course the best advantage to carrying your own food is that you can eat it whenever you like, and there's no chance of getting a meal choice that's 'Bland' and 'Blander'. Bon appetit!

Photos: Multiple Meals by Greenspell.Wordpress.com
other Meals: Wikipedia Search


  1. It always seemed the Kosher meals or the child meals looked better to me. The child meal had just as much to eat (maybe a little less) but it was food that kids (and everyone else) generally likes: chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, fruit snacks ... The Kosher meals include labels on EVERYTHING.

  2. Wow! Looking at the photos of the meals brings back a lot of memories of days past!

  3. Since I work for Comair (Delta Airlines), we just recently started meals in First Class on the "big" plane, a 900 series CRJ. I love it and sometimes the meals are great and sometimes, yeah, whatever. Unfortunately, we do not have any special meals yet though.


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