Who REALLY Has the Best Airline Food?

Nov 27, 2015

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Welcome to Fly&Dine on TPG, a monthly column that explores the intersection of food and travel with the help of TPG Contributor (and expert food writer) Jason Kessler of Fly&Dine, the best online source for dining while you fly. Today, Jason looks at all the various rankings of airlines with best in-flight meals, and brings his own list in for a landing.

From the Best Fried Chicken, Family-Friendly Waterparks and Mid-Sized Sedans to Fit Your Budget, we’ve become a world that thrives on lists — and airline food isn’t immune to our passion for categorization. However, are travel and aviation writers really out there flying each and every airline to establish a true winner for “best airline food?” If assigned by a single publication, this enterprise would cost a fortune. And are we talking the best overall dish, best use of the limited food-preparation resources or best approximation of a restaurant experience in the air? The criteria for what defines “best airline food” often seems nebulous.

So how do we determine who really has the best airline food?

SAS 737
When you can’t try all their offerings, how can you tell which airlines have the best in-flight meals?

Well, I’ve chosen to aggregate all of the “best airline food” rankings out there to see who comes out on top. The resulting list is by no means an exact scientific answer to the question, but instead, more of a consensus.

To arrive at a conclusive list, I reviewed lists from Saveur, The Daily Meal (economy and first class), Epicurious, Thrillist, Vogue, Travel + Leisure and LuxuryTravelExpert.com, as well as the award winners for both the Passenger Choice Awards and SkyTrax. Additionally, TPG himself names Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue Mint as a few providers of his favorite in-flight meals — did those airlines make the cut?

I’ve assigned points based on rankings. For example, if there are 10 airlines ranked, the #1 winner will get 10 points, #2 will get nine, and so on. Each entry will get five points just for appearing on the list. If the airline falls on “best airline food” lists for multiple classes of service (i.e., Cathay Pacific’s food in both its premium economy and business class have been mentioned on “best of” lists), they receive points for each mention.

Which airplane galleys are serving up the best meals? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Which airplane galleys are serving up the best meals? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

After careful tabulation of the frequency of mention and points totals each airline received, these are the best airlines in the world for food:

1. Singapore: 82
2. Turkish: 70
3. Emirates: 59
4. Eithad: 56
5. Cathay Pacific: 54
6. Air France: 47
7. Qatar Airways: 34
8. Austrian: 31
9. Qantas: 26
10. Thai: 25
11. Korean Air: 22
12. Lufthansa: 20
13. Virgin America: 18
14. Air New Zealand: 18
15. Oman Air: 16
16. ANA: 13

A tempting bowl of goodness served in Singapore Airlines’ first class.

Singapore and its “Book the Cook” service ran away with the rankings, both because it received high marks and appeared on nearly every list I examined. Turkish also offers a stellar in-flight chef service (and coffee) and that landed it at #2 on the list.

My caviar course was delicious.
Qatar’s first-class caviar course surely helped it hit the top 10 for airline food.

The Middle Eastern airlines (Etihad, Emirates, Qatar) all hit the top 10 and that’s no surprise to anyone who’s flown them. Meanwhile, Asian airlines also fared well, with Cathay Pacific at #5 and Thai Airways hitting #10, followed closely by Korean Air at #11.

jetblue mint food
JetBlue Mint’s NOURISHMINT service is proving to be such a crowd- (and TPG-) pleaser that it seems poised for an appearance on a “best airline food” list soon.

How did the domestic American airlines fare? I think we all know there’s a lot of room for improvement and that’s why the legacy US carriers don’t even make the list. Virgin America is the only one to appear on this list, earning 18 total points and landing at #13. United didn’t make the list, but seems to be on a positive upswing with its new in-flight meal offerings. And while JetBlue Mint is still fairly new, I endorse it as much as TPG does — and I think we’ll see it climb up the airline-food rankings over the next year or so.

Do you agree or disagree with the rankings on this list? Did your favorite airline food get left out? Please share in the comments below.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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