If you follow us you’ll know by now that the LFW team has just a few dietary requirements that need to be met, and we’ve been put to the test this year selecting appropriate, and healthy, airline food on our travels. Is it better to eat in-flight or pig-out at the airport where you may have more choice in what you can eat, or simply take it with you? Emma Dowling checks out airline food including special meals, and offers some tips if you want to take your own.
The flights we’ve travelled already this year range from low cost carriers—where you pay for absolutely everything—to flashy business class pods which, let’s face it, are pretty damn good! And our airlines have included Air New Zealand, QANTAS, British Airways, Thai Airways, Emirates, Sri Lankan Air, and low-cost carriers Jetstar, and AirAsia X. If you have dietary, religious or ethnic requirements, or simply a life choice, you can pre-order special meals. Almost every airline (with the exception of some low cost carriers) offer a range of meals including low salt, low carb, low fat, diabetic, Coeliac (gluten free), vegan, vegetarian, halal, kosher, Hindu etc.
In flight dining
Many major airlines that cover long haul routes have their own chef on board to service first and business class passengers. Economy class offers a more limited range but the food is often backed by an international chef, who, allegedly, supervises the on-board menus. You also need to remember that most meals are pre- or part-cooked and reheated on board; after all, they’re not likely to fire up a naked flame in-flight to cook your steak whatever class you travel.
However, not all meals are available on all flights, for example, you’re more likely to be able to order halal if you’re travelling in or out of Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, or from an airline hub in Dubai or Cairo. Air New Zealand publishes its in-flight dining menus online but does not guarantee kosher meals on flights to and from some Pacific Island Nations. QANTAS offer no information on their website on what they offer, and you can only peruse their special menu if you have already booked a flight—which means you don’t know if you’ll be able to get your meal until after you’ve made (and paid for) your booking.
By contrast, Emirates have copies of all their menus—first, business and economy class—online, and if you’ve already booked a flight, just enter your flight number to see what’s on offer when you fly. You can also preview all class menus on the low-cost carriers Jetstar and AirAsia X, and Thai Airways, and British Airways also offer the opportunity to peruse, and pre-purchase, your meal online.
Airport and airline lounges
All airports offer café and/or restaurant/bar facilities, but … let’s face it, you’re a captive market, so prices are often more expensive than you would pay at a regular café or restaurant, with the exceptions of major food chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Pie Face, Sumo Salads etc. Plus, some of the ‘local’ delicacies may not appeal. If you travel a lot you should consider a lounge membership and Emirates lead the way in lounges and food—not to mention the Moet and Veuve always available! Air New Zealand has just gone through a major renovation of its lounges in Sydney and Auckland and now have a far greater variety (and quality) of food on offer.
Air New Zealand offers a variety of ways to book. You can book a seat only, seat and bag, or ‘The Works’. With a seat or seat/bag booking you don’t get meals so if you don’t have the good fortune to be an Air NZ/or Alliance Star Gold member (which gets you into their lounges) you need to consider whether it’s worthwhile paying the extra for meals (and movies) or eating at the airport or taking your own snacks.
Airports and airline lounges in Australia and Europe often have a range of healthy snacks and salads and hot food, but, they also have a plethora of cakes and biscuits and lots of things on breads and crackers. In the Pacific it’s often simple fruit and sandwiches, while Asia, South-Asia, and the Middle East will often have their own rice, curries, and spices on offer, and some foods you just may not be used to eating.
Taking your own food on board
Frankly, you’re limited to what you can take on board. Obviously a full three-course meal is out of the question, but you can pack yourself a nice healthy lunchbox including a variety of snack items such as nuts, dried and fresh fruit, veggies, crackers and some spreads, hard boiled eggs, sandwiches and rolls, and once you’ve gone through customs/security scans you can take your own bottled water or other drinks. On a shortish flight of six hours or so you’d be fine but if you’re really long haul (over 8 hours) you’d probably be pretty peckish by the time you got off the flight.
So what’s the answer?
If you’re full economy (or first or business class) and you need a special meal check out your in-flight menu before you fly—if you can, if not contact the airline and ask what special meals are on offer for your flight. If you’re on a low-cost carrier check out their menu and weigh up the cost of paying for an in-flight meal or eating at the airport prior to your flight, but remember that some low cost carriers arrive, and leave, from low cost airports with minimum facilities.
And finally—you’re on holiday so you might as well enjoy yourself! Bon appétit!