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The Airlines With the Best In-Flight Meals (And the One With the Worst)

Eating on a plane is still a running punchline, but it's not necessarily always miserable.

Despite all the changes to air travel over the years, the in-flight meal is still viewed with a certain amount of skepticism. It's remained a constant cultural punchline and is even used as a derogatory way to describe unappealing food back on the ground, often pushing travelers to grab a quick bite in an airport restaurant rather than suffer through a reheated tray of chicken, beef, or pasta. But even with all of the horror stories, some carriers still manage to pull off a pleasant dining experience in the air to prove that not all eating at 40,000 feet has to feel like a punishment. Read on for the airlines with the best and worst in-flight meals, according to travel experts.

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Best: JetBlue Airways

A close up of a JetBlue plane's tail fin while parked at an airport
Eliyahu Parypa/iStock

Even though air travel has returned to relative normalcy since the drastic changes implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, dining is arguably one area that was set back and never fully recovered. Some carriers have been slow to replace pre-packaged snacks with prepared meals, but one domestic airline has put effort into bulking up its dining options on longer legs.

"Fast-casual favorite restaurant DIG has partnered with JetBlue to provide in-flight meals on their transatlantic flights," Katy Nastro, spokesperson and travel expert at Going, tells Best Life. "A recent trip over to London meant I got a jerk chicken and carrot salad combo that tasted like…an actual jerk chicken and carrot salad!"

The airline also appears to understand which comfort foods flyers will appreciate most. "On the return flight, they offered soft pretzels as a nod to the Big Apple hot dog vendors, and I must say, it was softer than most cart pretzels that I can remember," she says.

Best: Etihad Airways

An Etihad Airways jet sitting on a runway
iStock / Jetlinerimages

The little touches that make you forget you're dining high in the sky can make a carrier's meal service stand out. For Etihad Airways, this includes providing its guests with a well-executed high tea service at cruising altitude.

"I will never forget my delight in discovering on board an international Etihad flight in Business Class from the U.S. to Australia the option of traditional afternoon tea," Jo Hayes, etiquette consultant and founder of "It included beautifully presented tea and scones, complete with jam and clotted cream—and available anytime, day or night."

"As an afternoon tea etiquette expert who scours the globe for the best tea and scone offerings, I was impressed," Hayes adds. "I have not come across this option on any other airline before or since."

But it doesn't stop at beverages: Even Etihad's full meal service gets nods from the experts.

"One of my best dining experiences was with Etihad on a pre-pandemic economy flight from Hong Kong to Europe," says Mariana Montes, travel expert at Vibe Adventures. "The delicious Asian fusion food and commendable presentation demonstrated impressive attention to detail."

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Best: Singapore Airlines

singapore airlines back of plane

It's one thing to find impressive meal options on higher-priced premium economy, business, and first-class tickets. But some international carriers stand out for providing a delicious dining experience throughout the cabin.

"Singapore Airlines stands out to me as the number one for in-flight meals, even in economy!" says Becca Siegel, travel expert and co-founder of Half Half Travel. "When we flew from the U.S. to East Asia on Singapore Air in total regular economy seats, we were given a real paper menu when we sat down with the menu items and choices for each meal during the more than 12-hour haul to Asia. And then it all tasted incredible!"

If you are booked in a higher-tier seat, you'll also be able to take advantage of the airline's Book the Cook service. This allows business class travelers to pick from dozens of options 48 hours before their flight that go well beyond the limited menus typically available onboard. In a recently posted TikTok video, user 2passports1dream explained they had a selection of more than 20 dishes, including an "actual steak" and a "Japanese-inspired glazed eggplant."

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Best: Emirates

An Emirates airlines plane on the runway

It's not just high-quality food that can make an in-flight meal memorable. Some travelers appreciate carriers that go out of their way to ensure their special request meals are just as good as the standard servings. According to Lindsey Danis, travel expert and founder of Queer Adventurers, this includes Emirates and their broad range of plant-based options.

"I always choose the Asian vegetarian option when I fly with them, and it's always been healthy and super flavorful—which is a feat when it comes to in-flight meals!" she says. "I love knowing that I'll get a meaningful, protein-rich meal when I fly with them. And of course, Emirates also has a ton of special diet options including Hindu meals, gluten-free meals, and low-salt meals."

Worst: ITA Airways

A close up of an ITA Airways plane

Italy receives tens of millions of travelers each year, many of whom are hoping to experience its legendary culinary culture firsthand. Unfortunately, one expert says that one major carrier isn't exactly the gastronomic gateway some might expect to kick off their trip.

"I recently flew from Rome Fiumicino to New York JFK on an ITA Airways flight, in economy, and had what's probably the worst airline meal I have ever had," says Claudia Tavani, travel writer and founder of My Adventures Across The World. "I had made a special request for a vegan meal, and I was presented with a tiny portion of white rice, boiled potatoes, boiled baby carrots, a piece of dry bread, and some margarine to make it at least somewhat chewable."

Things didn't get any better as service continued on the flight. "The snack offered before arrival consisted of two slices of soaking wet bread with a slice of iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato. Needless to say, as soon as I arrived in Manhattan I made a beeline for the nearest restaurant to have a decent meal!"

She's not the only person who's reported a bad experience. In a video posted to TikTok, user CurvyThinking said she was also disappointed by her meal flying the same route back to New York City from Rome.

"I was excited to fly on an Italian airline because Italian food is amazing," she explains. "And so, on the way back from Italy to the U.S.—where, keep in mind, the origin of the flight is in Italy—I didn't bring any food, imagining I would be eating Italian food on the flight. Well, the food on the fight was practically inedible."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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