Every type of traveler — from occasional to frequent flyers — has an opinion about food served on planes, whether they’re appreciative of the fare or starkly opposed to eating anything that was precooked and then heated up in the air.
But how do the people tasked with preparing and serving these onboard dishes feel about them?
HuffPost spoke with three flight attendants about the airplane meals they would never eat midflight, as well as those they’d actually recommend.
In the process, they also shared a few interesting facts about the industry. Did you know, for example, that most airplane food is prepared at one of a handful of catering companies and then trucked over to various airports?
Also, a whole lot of employees bring their own food to work, according to a flight attendant named Whytney who has worked with a major U.S. airline for seven years.
“Usually, people bring a pretty large insulated lunchbox with everything in it: meat, yogurts, salads, fruits and more,” said Whytney, who requested that her surname be withheld her privacy reasons.
But when they do partake in airplane fare, here are some of the food and drink items they steer clear of.
Water (As Well As Coffee And Tea)
Although bottled water is fine, tap water should be dealt with carefully, Whytney explained.
“It all comes down to how often the pipes are cleaned,” she said, noting that tap water is also commonly used to brew coffee and tea on airplanes.
“The issue isn’t so much within the United States but, across other countries, similar regulations aren’t in place.”
One 2019 study ranked 11 major and 12 regional airlines in terms of water quality, looking at factors like whether E. coli or coliform was present.
Although it didn’t detail how often the pipes were cleaned across each carrier, the study found that Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Air offered the safest water. JetBlue and Spirit Air ranked last.
“Most flight attendants won’t drink the tap water, coffee or tea,” said Whytney, before noting that the latter two options also tend to dehydrate — another reason to stay away from them while traveling.
To further avoid dehydration, Jasmine King, who has been working as a flight attendant since 2015, suggested avoiding salty snacks like nuts and pretzels.
Steaks And Fillets
Although a matter of personal preference, some flight attendants stay away from eating steaks and fillets while on the job because of how they’re prepared. Specifically, they’re almost always overcooked.
“The ovens are only so big, and there is only so much food that can fit in it,” said a Delta Air Lines flight attendant named Dennis, whose name has been changed to avoid potential repercussions with his employer.
“If you are particular about how your steak should be prepared, don’t eat it,” he added.
In general, dishes like steak and fillets should be properly heated to avoid any risk of food poisoning.
Dehydration can also be an issue for passengers who consume alcohol.
“Alcohol affects your body negatively when in high altitude,” said Whytney, alluding to a condition known as hypoxia, which is related to low levels of oxygen in body tissue.
“This decreased pressure means that the body finds it harder to absorb oxygen,” she added. “This can produce light-headedness or hypoxia. In other words, the lower level of oxygen in your blood means that you may seem more drunk in the air than you would on the ground after consuming the same amount of alcohol.”
And if you’re having your drink on ice, you’ve got one more thing to think about: The ice was probably made with the same tap water that a lot of flight attendants avoid.
Entrees In General
According to a German study commissioned by the carrier Lufthansa over a decade ago, factors like low pressure can cause certain foods to taste less intense among airline passengers — which is why aviation catering companies heavily salt their food.
“Pasta and soups are usually high in sodium,” Whytney said. “Also some Indian meals fall in the category because they have no meat but a higher salt content. Any kind of sandwich with deli meat inside of it probably has higher levels of salt as well.”
Vanessa Rissetto, a registered dietitian in New Jersey and co-founder of Culina Health, previously told HuffPost that “because of pressure shifts, some people retain water during a flight, so something overly processed or too high in sodium might exacerbate” dehydration-related headaches, constipation or fatigue.
“Try some electrolyte tabs or coconut water to help with hydrations and try whole foods like veggies and fruit, or lean protein to help you feel your best,” she said.
If you order a cheese tray on a plane hoping for a delicious selection, you’re likely to be disappointed. King said most of the options served in the air are processed cheeses that don’t require refrigeration.
“Stay away from cheese trays, as they aren’t too fresh,” she advised. “They are [made of] cheese, sure, but they’re basically shelf-stable products.”
In general, anything that needs refrigeration may not be very fresh when served on an airplane, King noted. She added that although she herself indulges in such foods sometimes, she doesn’t recommend it.
Of course, all foods go through an extensive regulatory process before being served on a plane. But since flight attendants are around the fare on a regular basis, their advice is worth keeping in mind.