/ Travel & Leisure

Do you expect a ‘free’ in-flight meal?

In-flight meal

The lowly in-flight meal rarely springs to mind when reminiscing about holiday highlights. But, will we look back at the dry bread rolls, plastic meats and the stickiest of sticky rice with fonder memories?

For some time now, airline passengers have seen services that were traditionally included in the price of their ticket slowly become benefits available only at an additional cost.

Well now, according to reports, passengers could soon expect to also pay food, that most vital of luxuries, when flying with long-haul with British Airways.

Food for thought

Coming just three months after British Airways scrapped short-haul onboard meals in favour of chargeable Marks & Spencer food, the airline’s Chairman, Alex Cruz, has hinted they could roll out the same policy for their long-haul routes.

Though any change is someway off, the announcement got me thinking about my last holiday. Having found an amazing deal in the BA summer sale, we were lucky enough to fly with the airline to the Thai island of Koh Samui.

Catching an interconnecting flight at Singapore on the way out and Bangkok on the journey back, the longest we were in the air for was 16 hours. This is surely where BA’s plans could experience turbulence as and when they are unveiled to customers.

We ‘enjoyed’ two on-board meals while airborne. Looking at the price of the ‘M&S on board’ menu range, my partner and I would’ve had to dip into our holiday spending money quite considerably to prevent us going hungry during the flight.

Do you eat in-flight food?

Sometimes - depends what's being served (39%, 358 Votes)

Yes - I enjoy it (31%, 283 Votes)

No - I don't like it (16%, 144 Votes)

Yes - but I don't like it (15%, 136 Votes)

Total Voters: 921

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The illusion of choice

Like me, the frugal among you be well-versed in filling your bags with snacks pre-flight, but unless you’re prepared to lug multiple carrier bags onto the plane and picnic with your wilted salad in the aisles, you’re likely to go hungry for quite some time on a flight lasting any longer than four hours.

Should we be expected to choose between forking out for an M&S sarnie or risk breaking carry-on regulations by raiding the departure lounge food stalls? Can airlines really take away our long-established right to enjoy congealed scrambled eggs and a lukewarm fish curry?


Please don’t describe the meals as “free“. You have to pay for the flight in order to receive the meal, so it’s not free. If an airline describes its meals as free, it would be an unfair commercial practice under Schedule 1 Paragraph 20 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Recently British Airways tried to tell me that its meals were free in an effort to get out of compensating me for poor service in business class. “Included” is not the same as “free”.

The prices might not have increased as much is another outcome. Are they offering a meal deal for two (main, side, pud and a bottle) for £10 plus a service charge?

As we seem to expect cheaper and cheaper flights we must surely see the “frills” diminish. I see no reason not to then charge for in-flight food, just as you would if travelling by train. A choice at different prices seems reasonable, although on longer flights I would hope for more than just sandwiches. At least BA seem to be offering food from a decent quality supplier. Their ready meals are good and presumably could be cooked on board. I imagine recipes would be modified as I believe taste diminishes in flight and seasoning, herbs, spices for example are increased to balance this.

My experience of airline food was that it filled a hole but is not what you would relish on an evening out.

If so required, it’s hardly rocket science to eat at an airport while doing all that waiting for departure and then to also carry your own food on board.

You get what you pay for. I don’t fly economy class.

I don’t either – I don’t fly at all.

Simon says:
11 April 2017

There have been times on “long haul” (US East Coast) to London, where having a meal is an inconvenience. Better eating at airport and then spending the flight asleep. Otherwise, if meals not included, it should be made easier to bring own food on board to provide real choice. Perhaps the airline could also provide microwaves so passengers could heat their leftovers from the previous night’s supper?!

On a nice day you could have al fresco dining perhaps. There seems are loss of sense of value when you buy business or first class just to get a semi-decent meal. If it was food I was after I think i’d cross the Atlantic by ship.

Why not go for the veggie menu? You are almost guaranteed to be served first and you may even be lucky enough to enjoy your beans and cheese albeit with but not on the toast 🙂

We no longer fly, since taking the ‘plane anywhere seems to be an exercise in life expectancy reduction. We did, however, make an exception a year ago when we flew home from Zurich. As we flew in first class, not only was the included meal of surprisingly high quality but it was provided with real metal utensils, which I assumed were no longer available. But since flying is essentially a somewhat sedentary experience I’d be happy with drinks for the most part.

It makes more sense to charge separately for food on flights. I will be interested to know how many people buy food on board during short flights.

I used to fly in connection with my work, but my passport has expired and I have not been tempted to renew it. Part of the problem is that I don’t live anywhere near an airport, which can mean travelling to and from the airport at silly times. I don’t think I will be purchasing any airline sandwiches any time soon.

I normally fly with Emirates and their standard of in-flight catering is gruesome. I would much prefer taking my own food in exchange for a cheaper fare.

I don’t know what the “carry-on regulations” you mention are, Dean, but if they mean that I may not eat a snack (or water?) purchased elsewhere on board the plane, I often break them and would plead ignorance.

Welcome to the convos @dsamways. Well done for coming back and contributing further to your convo.

Eating helps while away the time especially on long flights.

As has been pointed out, airline food is not free, the cost of it has been included in your ticket, so being presented with something you don’t like or can’t eat means you are not getting what you have paid for. My husband is allergic to dairy and a diet controlled diabetic so usually gets given vegan that is very often unpalatable and could be too high in sugars.

I have never understood why you cannot choose what you want to eat in advance of a flight so this would seem a good move by BA.

So I looked at their website and here are links for economy long haul and short haul meals:

The only 3 items on all the meal selections that are milk-free are likely to be high in sugars so nothing for my husband there. It is possible to cook good food without putting milk products in everything and full nutritional info would be helpful to those with dietary problems.

I try and avoid anything that might give me food poisoning, wind or make me choke as in prawns, salad, bread, chicken and fish bones, so 4 out of 6 meals not a good choice for me either.

So that leaves the vegetarian or breakfast, hmmm. ☹

Food seems to be over-thought these days. What is mousseline, maki, nigiri, en papillote and crespelle? A well made cottage pie, roast, moussaka or beef stew would keep most meat eaters happy, so why can’t we choose one of these in advance? Basic food done well can be far preferable to the prissy offerings chefs think we want these days and there would be far less chance of upset tums.

And, why can’t we choose starter, main and desert separately? If BA are going to charge quite high prices for ordering in advance, we want to enjoy the whole meal not just a couple of the items.

My wife and I are shortly flying from the US to Nepal and back in economy on Qatar Airways, a OneWorld airline. I was pleasantly surprised when booking our flights on-line at the airline’s website to find that in addition to seat selection there is menu selection. Having been a very frequent flyer for more than 40 years, busiest year 400,000 miles flown, I’ve witnessed an ever worsening catering situation. In the US all the gate area restaurants offer food to take aboard.

I think there is a easonableness expectation to be considered. A four hour flight is not dangerous to your health in terms of food. A longer flight certainly I think is going to be an unacceptable extension of the practice.

Effectively you are hostage to what they would provide and the price. Altenatively if you think sitting next to a group of people indulging in peanuts, lichees, and various other smelly of potential dangerous “snacks” is a good idea I think you are daft. Imagine haveing a search as you go onboard for forbidden fruits etc or suspicious looking sweets.

If necessary there should be mandated drinks and food stuffs which all airlines have to provide cost free – that is it is already included in the price. Whether this be cheese and crackers or nutrious bars is immaterial. Paying for more luxurious food would I suspect be encouraged.

Uneaten food would probably have to be left on the plane for disposal as it is illegal to take many foodstuffs into other countries.

I think a selection of Pot Noodles would be an advance on what most airlines dish up. I remember some long haul flights with Air France to South America and the food was dire. But Patrick is right – we cannot go round the airport self-selecting our eats as there would have to be inspections. I don’t mind going seven hours without a meal as I am quite used to it but my wife likes something roughly every three hours. I am happy to read a book until I fall asleep but then I get disturbed when someone on the inside needs to go to the toilet. Flying is not my favourite means of travel and for long distances I think First Class is worth it.

For me it’s less about the food and more about the drinks. While some countries like Greece have introduced price regulation on water and a few food items (capping it at certain airports at designated shops) I honestly feel that water is something I want more of in flights due to the dry recycled air. On long haul flights a family could have to buy an awful lot of water and when there are delays particularly when stuck in a plane airlines still charge for drinks.

Water is certainly essential for long haul so I’d hope that would continue for free (and tea!)

As a related aside, I also enjoyed the Singapore Slings when I flew on Singapore Airlines…