Airlines aren’t known for their culinary prowess. Putting the words “airplane” and “food” together inspires a mental image of mystery meat and peas stuffed into a tinfoil tray. But for one man, the meals are the inspiration behind a dedicated food Instagram and blog.
Nik Loukas has been reviewing airline meals on his blog, Inflight Feed, and Instagram of the same name since 2012. Over the past seven years, he’s flown on (and eaten on) more than 500 flights, consuming everything from sushi to steak at 30,000 feet. His Instagram bio says it best for his more than 25,000 followers: “Travelling the world eating airline food. Info and reviews for passengers on what to eat on over 150 airlines.”
It’s safe to say that few, if any, people are more knowledgeable when it comes to all things airline food. We caught up with Loukas for some insider tips on how to eat like royalty on an economy-class budget.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What inspired you to start InFlight Feed?
I was working at an airline, and we made some changes to our inflight catering — changes that included not accepting cash as a form of payment. People were jumping on flights and complaining that our cabin crew wouldn’t take their money. The more complaints kept rolling in, the more I wondered why this information wasn’t made public prior to the flight.
As I researched airline food options, I found that there wasn’t a lot of information available about what you can eat in flight. I started to gather all this information and launched the site in early 2012, and it’s now grown to what it is today.
Why do things taste different at higher altitudes?
Research has shown we lose about 20-30 percent of our sense of taste at higher altitudes, which also impacts how we experience sweet and salty flavors. It’s all due to the pressure and the noise. Some researchers say you should listen to music to drown out the noise of the engines to improve the taste of the meals.
How do you get the best meal while flying without paying extra?
Fly with an airline that cares about its in-flight service. There are plenty of airlines that offer great economy-class meals. Look out for curries on the menu. Curry is one of those meals that travels very well because the altitude enhances the flavor of the meal.
Oh, and order a tomato juice. Trust me, it tastes great at 35,000 feet! Again, it’s due to the altitude. Things like cardamom and lemongrass also become extra intense, so if you see these ingredients on an inflight menu, order them.
Another tip: I’ve heard of people taking their own Tabasco sauce on a plane. There are also those little mobile foodie survival kits that have sea salt, black pepper, cayenne, onion, basil, and other herbs.
Try to sit at the front of the plane, as well. Choices tend to run out by the time the crew gets to the back of the plane.
What are your top tips for getting the best meal if cost isn’t a factor?
Upgrade your meal if you can. The quality of the food is so much better than the standard economy-class meals. For example, one of the Air France meal upgrade options currently includes a dish that’s been created by the famed Lenôtre culinary empire from France. Add an exit row seat to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a quasi-business/premium economy-class experience.
What’s the best inflight meal you’ve ever had?
My Hello Kitty Kids meals on the Eva Air Hello Kitty Jet. Imagine a guy in his 30s receiving a kids’ meal. The cabin crew thought it was hilarious. In fact, some of my best meals have been on Asian airlines.
Which airlines serve the worst food?
I flew Air India a few years back in economy class from Delhi to Paris, and the food was just terrible. The portions were tiny. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane so I could eat something.
I recently flew with Scoot Airlines from Athens to Singapore in November and was left unimpressed. It wasn’t the taste of the food that upset me, it was how expensive it was. Granted, they’re a low-cost airline, and I only paid 200 euros one way for the flight, but the meal cost 35 euros! I really couldn’t see the value in paying so much for such a sub-par meal.
Which airlines serve the best food?
If you’re going economy class, fly Turkish Airlines. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Their caterer, Do & Co, make some of the best airline meals in the world.
Try Aegean Airlines in economy class on for longer flights. You’ll be rewarded with some great tasting Greek food. I also loved my economy-class meal on the Russian airline Aeroflot. Air Asia has tasty and very cheap airline meals too.
Are there ever any items on the menu you avoid?
I think fish can be hit or miss. I’ve had some great fish dishes, but I’ve also had some shockers. It can dry out during the reheating process. I always try to stay away from the bread, as well; it really bloats!
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Last year I finished filming a six-part documentary called The Inflight Food Trip. We traveled the world for about 1.5 years (on and off, not at once) visiting various airlines and their in-flight caterers.
We interviewed people, got to really see how the meals are made, how cabin crew are trained, and so much more. It was a real eye-opener. This year, I’m planning on rolling out a number of events for my followers as a way to say thanks to them. I’m still trying to work out the logistics, but it’ll definitely include airline food!