Free inflight meals could be a thing of the past: is this so bad?

Free inflight meals used to be an essential part of flying. Possibly born from boredom and hunger, as opposed to a love of them. National carrier British Airways recently hinted that it may no longer provide economy passengers with free inflight meals on long-haul flights, following recent comments by Chairman Alex Cruz. This remains unconfirmed, however in January of this year their short haul flights ceased to provide a free meal. But BA didn’t partner with just any catering firm… it was M&S’ on-board range.

Free inflight meals RIP?

On the back of this news, flight search website Cheapflights was quick to compare 22 of the most popular airlines used by British travellers flying short-haul, finding that two thirds now charge for inflight dining, with average prices ranging from £11.80 to £13.60 for a sandwich and a hot drink.

While BA’s decision is certainly giving less to its passengers, for those of us with dietary restrictions, or who just find the high-altitude snacks overpriced and unhealthy, what are the options?

Healthy eating options when travelling

Many of us who are vegetarian or vegan may prefer to bring food from home than be at the culinary mercy of either an airport or an airline. This way you ensure you get a supply of healthy food to your taste. But remember to check whether it will make it through airport security. Always check the customs regulations of both the airport your are travelling from and your destination as something that was okay to carry on board may not be allowed on arrival. Gatwick states clearly that you can carry fruit, vegetables and all solid foods in your hand baggage. However, foods in sauces or with a high liquid content (such as sauces, pastes, soups and stews) cannot come through security and remember the 100ml rule.

DIY airline meals

For me the answer is, if possible, to eat as healthy and filling a meal as possible before boarding and then take on dry snacks along with bottled water. Think:
1. Hydration (e.g. grapes, apple slices, herb tea bags)
2. Protein (e.g. nuts, seeds)
3. Firm foods you can chew on (e.g. sliced vegetables, dried fruit).

If you forget or run out of time – life is never perfect – most airport branches of Boots sell fresh fruit pots, salads, rice cakes and protein bars.

Dine before you fly

Restaurant options at Gatwick include the Grain Store, which serves vegan and vegetarian meals as does Wagamama. Heathrow Airport’s website usefully lists which restaurants offer menus to cater for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, wheat-free diets and so on including Comptoir Libanais (also at Gatwick), with a vegetarian (vegan also but listed under their vegetarian icon) and gluten-free options. Leon has branches at Stansted and Heathrow (slightly reduced menu here) and offers vegan and vegetarian options with children’s versions surprisingly reasonable at £2.75.

What happens to our taste buds at 35,000 feet altitude?

In fact, if you can you may indeed wish to eat before you fly. Here’s why inflight food just does not taste the same as it does on the ground, even your own. The science behind it, and the solution to make it taste better, is quite surprising, see video:

And if you wish to know how to go about finding cheap flights, regardless of inflight meals, remember here are our 5 tips.

Bon voyage and happy eating!

Joanna Fernandez travel journalist, portrait photo Jo Fernandez is a leading UK travel journalist, with much of her career spent working for the London Evening Standard where she was Travel Editor until 2015.
Now a freelance travel journalist and copywriter, she lives in Essex and has one daughter. As a travel expert, she still enjoys jetting off to write travel pieces, with favourite destinations including Mexico, Croatia and, of course, Essex.

By Jo Fernandez

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