A passenger on an Emirates flight to Dubai was recently stunned to find his inflight meal with the prestigious airline consisted of a roll with a square of what looked like processed cheese and a very, very small piece of chicken in the middle.
Here are The Independent's worst experiences of plane food.
Simon Calder, travel correspondent
Over the years I have learned that the less hungry I am when boarding a flight, the happier the flight is likely to be. At the same time as airlines strip away complimentary catering, airports are getting better at providing fresh, nutritious fare to fill the “dwell time” between clearing security and boarding the flight.
But on long-haul trips, most passengers simply accept what’s on offer — and, as the airlines know, feeding us helps to pass the time on interminable flights.
Viasa, the leading Venezuelan airline, had a particularly painful itinerary from Heathrow to South America, but it beat the competition hands-down for price. The journey began by flying further away from Venezuela, to Paris Charles de Gaulle. After an hour or two on the ground in France, the elderly DC10 took off for Margarita, Venezuela’s holiday island. Half the plane emptied to go off and enjoy the beaches and lagoons, while the rest of us carried on to Caracas.
At the airport serving the capital, the journey was far from over. I connected to a six-hour overnight hop to Rio, with São Paulo a couple of hours beyond that — where an onward flight to Asuncion in Paraguay awaited.
Shortly after take-off from Caracas, dinner arrived. It was the standard staple of chicken and rice. By now it was 3am in London, my tastebuds had been dulled by 17 hours of travel and my appetite was all over the place. So even though it was lukewarm and looked unappetising, I finished the meal.
Whether it was the chicken or the rice, revenge was not instant. If you are familiar with bacillus cereus (from reheated rice) or salmonella (from undercooked chicken), you will know that it usually takes a good few hours before the stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea begin. I was checking in for the final leg to Asuncion when it struck.
Missing the flight would have been disastrous, financially and logistically. So despite feeling ghastly, I managed to get airside and ask at the gate how busy the flight was. Barely a quarter full, was the answer.
If you are to suffer a severe gastro-intestinal attack, a mostly empty Boeing 737 is a good place to be. With three seats of my own at the back beside the loo, and an unlimited supply of sick bags, I got through the two-hour flight.
All that remained for me to do was clear immigration.
Asuncion airport is not the busiest in the world, but it does have a lunchtime bulge as flights arrive from various other South American capitals. The queue for passports was long, and every time I got near the front, I had to race away to the baño. It was mid-afternoon by the time I emerged, pale and feeble, but by then with the bacteria responsible fully evacuated.
On the flight home, I managed somehow to persuade the Viasa ticket desk to endorse the ticket across to British Airways — which at the time flew non-stop to Heathrow. And soon afterwards, the Venezuelan airline went bust.
The best inflight meal? Sashimi at 35,000 feet. But the raw fish was not aboard a Japanese airline, nor a long-haul flight: just a short hop from Reykjavik to Heathrow, with Icelandair. Fresh, tasty even at six miles high, and nutritious.
Julia Buckley, acting head of travel
Flying from Curaçao to Haiti last year – via Miami on American Airlines, a six(ish) hour journey – I splurged on an upgrade to ‘first class’, one of the perks of which, I assumed, would be a good meal on the flight. Instead, I got an inedible attempt at breakfast on the crack-of-dawn first leg and took so long to get through passport control and customs at Miami that I had to make a run for the plane. No problem, I thought, there’ll be a proper meal on board. And there was, for virtually everyone except me – it turned out that on AA first class passengers are able to pre-book fancy meals, and because I hadn’t all they had for me was a limp salad with some crackers they were doling out in economy. The cabin crew were deeply unsympathetic to my flight – I hadn’t realised back then that they hate first class passengers.
My other perennial bugbear was the food British Airways used to serve on shorthaul flights – their ‘chicken’ wraps with no discernable filling have the dubious privilege of being the only plane food I’ve rejected outright.
The best? Austrian Airlines allows all passengers to pre-book a meal made by Do&Co, and I had a fantastic unplanefood-like platter of spätzle flying Vienna to Heathrow a couple of years ago. And three years ago I flew BMI Regional from Bristol to Milan. Not only was the cabin a 1-2 formation so I sat by myself, as if I was in a private jet; but they handed out really solid snack packs with everything from biscuits and crackers to nuts. It was one of my favourite ever flights.
Josh Withey, assistant editor Indy100
My worst meal was last autumn flying BA to Hong Kong – not terrible but unremarkable. It was your standard chicken or beef selections with a bread roll, then a slightly sad looking breakfast. My best was to Taiwan (via Bangkok) on EVA Air. They served a range of meals including western cooked breakfast, tasty curries with rice and some gorgeous stir fries too.
Rachael Pells, education correspondent
It wasn’t my own worst meal, but flying Virgin Atlantic from Havana back to the UK in 2012, a vegan couple sat next to me were given first meat and then a vegetarian meal, despite having registered for vegan meals. The (British) air steward told them to just “deal with it”! Weirdly, the best plane meal I ever had was on Ukranian Airlines. It was only pasta but there was plenty of it and I just remember being really impressed. Qatar Airways were really generous on a recent flight – they had a really nice curry and savoury pastries last November. Emirates last week coming back from Dubai was pretty gross – really salty food.
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