Are extra-fee gourmet airline meals really worth it?


Economy-class travelers often joke about how tasteless airline food can be, especially on homeward-bound flights, as we look forward to a home-cooked meal and other comforts.

As a subject for grumbling, airline food is not always treated fairly. Many carriers around the world have been working on improving their menus. There is a growing trend among Europe’s full-service carriers to make additional, extra-fee gourmet menus available to economy passengers.

Air France, for example, offers foie gras terrine. Austrian Airlines offers Wiener schnitzel and sushi on its €15 in-flight menu.

Unfortunately, these menus may prove to have more snob appeal than gourmet appeal. Scientists say our ability to taste food decreases by 30% at common flight altitudes. Cabin air pressure and the ultra-dry atmosphere can affect our sensory mechanisms, decreasing our taste bud sensitivity. So dishes that taste very good on the ground may even be hard to identify by taste at 35,000 feet.

This raises some questions about the real value of extra-fee gourmet meals up in the air. Maybe waiting to eat on solid ground makes more sense. Still, it’s always nice to have a choice.