15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond

From KFC chicken to Din Tai Fung dumplings, these in-flight meals prove that you can feast properly while in the air.

Photos: Luke Lai, Jun Seita, Newbie Runner, Lu Tsin Soon

Photos: Luke Lai, Jun Seita, Newbie Runner, Lu Tsin Soon

If you’re a frequent flier, you’ve probably grown accustomed to choking down overcooked meats, rubbery eggs, and mushy vegetables. Maybe you’ve started sleeping through meal services instead of torturing your palate, or you make do with the complimentary peanuts and pretzels.

But some airlines—mostly international ones—are finally catching on to the fact that airplane food doesn’t have to feel like punishment. 

Airlines are hiring well-known chefs like David Bouley and Jean Georges Vongerichten to create signature menus, or even bringing chefs onboard to replace mass-produced, pre-packaged (in)edibles with made-to-order meals. Singapore Airlines has a celebrated Book the Cook program that features meals designed by notable chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Georges Blanc, and asks flyers to request their meal of choice 24 hours prior to departure.

Airlines are also improving their in-flight meal prep stations. Cathay Pacific Airlines is the first airline to have galleys stocked with skillets, toasters, and rice cookers, allowing for freshly cooked eggs, crisp toast, and steamed rice to be served on board. Things are looking up in terms of mile-high dining—we can only hope U.S. airlines follow suit.

From caviar served on carts to a KFC at cruising altitude, here are 15 in-flight meals that restore our faith in flying.


HELLO KITTY-THEMED BENTOS

hellokittyplane 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond

Airline: EVA Air
Game-changing meal: A Hello Kitty-themed airplane exists, and yes, everything about it is Hello Kitty-themed—from the food to the toilet paper to the pillows. Depending on your flight route, you could be feasting on a traditional Japanese breakfast garnished with Hello Kitty-shaped carrots and colorful kamaboko fish cakes (pictured above); a piece of sirloin steak topped with Hello Kitty-shaped foie gras pate; or a salmon fillet with Hello Kitty’s face branded onto the top (which comes with a side of fruits in the shape of, you guessed it, Hello Kitty). We’d love to see some grown-ass adults eating these Sanrio-themed meals. (Photo: Luke Lai)


MOS BURGER DIY HAMBURGERS

airmosburger 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Japan Airlines
Game-changing meal: Leave it to the Japanese to collaborate with Mos Burger—essentially, the better quality McDonald’s of Japan—to feed flyers with DIY burgers. The “Vegetable Air Mos Burger” comes deconstructed, and passengers are given the freedom to arrange warm buns, a patty, three kinds of vegetables (lettuce, tomato, sliced onion), and carrot sauce as they please. According to the Air Mos press release, the Vegetable Air Mos Burger “is the fourth collaboration of a series of innovative inflight menus designed by JAL and Mos Burger, following their success with Air Mos Teriyaki Burger, Air Mos Rice Burger, and Air Mos Teriyaki Egg Burger.” The meal even comes with a nifty manual that gives instructions for constructing the burger (in case you weren’t sure). C’mon America, time to step up your in-flight fast-food game. (Photo: Shin Ogata)


KFC CHICKEN AND BISCUITS

KFCJAL 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Japan Airlines
Game-changing meal: Japan Airlines strikes again with its Air Kentucky Fried Chicken meal collaboration, which features a menu of chicken bites spiced with KFC’s secret spice blend, served with a warm honey-maple biscuit and a side of coleslaw. The collaboration was introduced during the holiday season in Japan, because Christmas in Japan is not complete without a bucket of chicken from KFC. We’re serious. (Photo: Inflight Feed)


WONTON NOODLES

cathaywonton 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Cathay Pacific
Game-changing meal: Wonton noodles are the lifeblood of restaurants in Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific pays homage to its mother city’s dietary mainstay by offering wonton noodles as an item on the snack menu. All Cathay flights also come stocked with instant cup noodles that are served on-demand (take that, pretzels). If you don’t feel like slurping noodles, you can also flag down a flight attendant and request a sandwich, cookies, apples, char siu pork buns, or Haagen Dazs ice cream. The best part? No one can stop you from asking for more. (Photo: Cranky Flier)


YOSHINOYA BEEF BOWLS

Air Yoshinoya 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Japan Airlines
Game-changing meal: JAL has never-ending hits. For this one, it beefs things up with yet another collaboration, this time with Yoshinoya, Japan’s largest chain of gyudon (beef bowl) restaurants. The packaging of the “Air Yoshinoya” meal is specially designed so that the mildly-sweet simmered beef and steaming rice are separated until customers are ready to eat. Unlike most airlines, JAL is mindful of the fact that humidity levels in cabins are lower than usual, and so it serves the beef with extra sauce. (Photo: Plane Talking Live)


BIBIMBAP AND SOBA NOODLES

bibimbap 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Asiana Airlines
Game-changing meal: This Korean airline offers flyers large bowls of bibimbap, a favorite national dish which consists of veggies and meat atop rice, accompanied by soba noodles and traditional pollack soup. The meal comes with an instructional pamphlet that guides travelers through the steps required to create the “greatest harmony” of flavors by mixing the rice with gochujang, a traditional Korean-style sweet and hot pepper paste. (Photo: Jun Seita)


TRADITIONAL ARABIC MEZZE

4V1C2828 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Emirates Airlines
Game-changing meal: Emirates Airlines gives its flyers a full introduction to Arabic cuisine, and by full, we mean a lavish sampler plate of traditional mezze that includes labneh yogurt with sumac powder, shanklish cheese salad, rice-stuffed vine leaves, cheese sambousik pastries, haloumi cheese, baba ghanoush, and hummus. Oh, and warm pita bread for dipping. (Photo: My Life’s a Trip)


SOUTH INDIAN VEGETARIAN BREAKFAST

jetairways 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Jet Airways
Game-changing meal: If you’re planning a trip to the southern regions of India, you better not expect to feast on chicken tikka masala. Instead, get familiar with idli and upma, and be prepared to go vegetarian for a few days. To do this, you can hop aboard a Jet Airways flight, which preps travelers by serving a complete South Indian vegetarian feast of upma—a thick porridge made out of dry roasted semolina—served with idli (steamed rice cakes), dosa (lentil pancakes), and sambar (spicy lentil soup). (Photo: Airliners)


PARMA HAM AND CAVIAR

Lufthanza 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Lufthansa
Game-changing meal: Lufthansa’s First Class is equipped with a caviar cart that rolls through the cabin when appetizers are served. Opt for a medallion of lobster on artichoke salad or high-quality Parma ham with cantaloupe for your starter, then enjoy as much caviar as you’d like—apparently, the flight attendants are generous with the portions. Carsten Spohr, the man in charge of the airline, told the Globe and Mail that “five percent of the global caviar production goes to Lufthansa first class,” making it the biggest caviar customer in the world. (Photo: Newbie Runner)


LOBSTER THERMIDORE

lobsterthermadore 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Game-changing meal: Lobster Thermidor is an entree last seen emerging from the kitchens of five-star restaurants in the ’50s, but now it can be found in the Business and First Class cabins of Singapore Airlines. The upscale meal is part of the airline’s Book the Cook program that invites passengers to order their meals more than 24 hours before departure. In addition to the Thermidor, flyers can choose luxe dishes like chicken breast stuffed with avocado and foie gras, grilled scallops with squid ink gnocchi, or soy-glazed pan-fried salmon. The in-flight menu describes the Thermidor as “lobster tail sauteed in butter, flambéed in brandy, sprinkled with cheese, and served with creamy mushroom sauce, garlic and spicy mustard, and buttered asparagus.” What an awesome throwback. (Photo: Mile Point)


DIN TAI FUNG DUMPLINGS

l 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: EVA Air
Game-changing meal: Din Tai Fung, a Michelin starred Taiwanese restaurant with branches all over the world, offers its award-winning dumplings aboard EVA Air flights, allowing flyers to nibble on the chain’s highly-coveted offerings without having to wait in line at their bustling dumpling houses. The special in-flight Din Tai Fung menu includes braised beef noodles, the restaurant’s famous xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), and shrimp and pork wontons drizzled in spicy chili sauce—all of which come with a side of the restaurant’s popular oven-baked pastries filled with taro paste. (Photo: Juma)


VITELLO TONNATO

vitellotonato 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Lufthansa
Game-changing meal: Lufthansa offers the traditional Italian dish vitello tonnato on select flights. The dish combines chilled slices of veal with a thick, mayonnaise-like tuna sauce, Pommery mustard, a hard-boiled egg, and capers. And if that isn’t enough to get your appetite going, the meal comes with a side of smoked salmon tartar and salmon gravlax. (Photo: Newbie Runner)


DIM SUM SETS

dragonairdimsum 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Dragon Air
Game-changing meal: Dragon Air, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, offers dim sum sets aboard its flights in Economy class. From char siu barbecued pork buns, to pork siu mai, to veggie-filled dumplings, the set covers all of the most essential baos and dumplings you’d find at a Sunday dim-sum feast in Hong Kong. (Photo: Matt@PEK)


NASI LEMAK

airasianasilemak 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Air Asia
Game-changing meal: Budget airline Air Asia charges RM10 ($3.12 USD) for it’s popular Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak meal, and people are more than happy to pay for it. Who is Pak Nasser? No one seems to know, but flyers go crazy for the local Malaysian favorite of fragrant coconut rice with chili sambal paste, fried anchovies, crunchy peanuts, and a hard-boiled egg. The in-flight meal is so popular that Air Asia encourages flyers to pre-order the meal online for a cheaper price. (Photo: Li Tsin Soon)


HILTL’S VEGETARIAN STIR-FRIES

swissairfood 15 Airline Meals That Go Above and Beyond
Airline: Swiss Air
Game-changing meal: Swiss Air has teamed up with Hiltl, a vegetarian restaurant in Zurich, to create a vegetarian menu that features tofu and vegetables sauteed in a lime and turmeric sauce, served over basmati rice. According to Hiltl’s website, the restaurant holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest continuously-open vegetarian restaurant in the world, and Swiss Air made the decision to partner with them in order to “unite two strong Swiss brands with a reputation for quality, innovation, and Swiss hospitality.” (Photo: Newbie Runner)

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