It’s rarely the case that airlines will provide meals that will be better than what you can get on the ground. The prepacking in the flight kitchen, constrained spaces onboard, and altitude present real challenges. And food is hardly the primary driver of my choice of premium cabin airline (heh, award space usually is!).
But some airlines do a fantastic job despite the challenging conditions. Several things go into having the best meal service.
- High quality food
- Choice and flexibility, the option to have something that will appeal to you at the most convenient time
- Snacks as well as main meals for long haul
Several airlines address choice and flexibility either:
- With a ‘book the cook’ option, the ability to order your preferred entree in advance. Singapore offers this in first and business class. I’ve used this from Thai Airways in first class. And EVA Air offers it in business.
- With a ‘dine anytime’ concept, with menu items that you can mix and match to form a meal whenever you would like during the flight. Excellent examples are ANA, Emirates, and Etihad.
Dine anytime also means there’s great snacks available throughout a flight. Other airlines have good standalone snacks as well, like Cathay Pacific (whose main meals I’m not usually impressed by).
Overall, I’d say the best food belongs to:
On the whole I think that Singapore Airlines has the best main meals, but their snacks are limited.
Etihad’s onboard chefs can be a mixed bag (a flight attendant with restaurant experience). Some just phone it in as flight attendants. Others take the time to get to know your preferences and surprise and delight you based on the ingredients on hand. Their ribeyes are very good, french fries a shocking concept for onboard but hit or miss, and the biryani always a go-to. Here it is from a First Apartment segment this year:
I’ve ordered it many times, here it is on a Washington Dulles – Abu Dhabi flight in 2014.
Asiana’s food is fantastic. So is ANA’s (both their Japanese and Western items). ANA’s mix and match style is very good as well in first.
Here’s Asiana black truffle risotto from a Seoul – Los Angeles flight.
The best meal I ever had was Singapore Airlines business class, Singapore – Bali, Prawn & Chicken Laksa. It was as good as I had had days earlier at a hawker stall, good enough that I pre-ordered it for my Singapore – Hong Kong first class segment a week later.
Thai Airways is hit or miss. There have been some really good meals I’ve had with them, though. I had an amazing truffled triple cream cheese onboard a Bangkok – Beijing flight that I’ve still not forgotten. They served me one of the best soups I’ve ever had… a duck rice soup onboard a Bangkok – Tokyo redeye.
And who can beat lobster thermidor for breakfast (brunch?) pre-ordered on a short Bangkok – Hong Kong flight?
Also quite good was a traditional pad thai (cooked inside an omelette) with lobster.
(I pre-ordered the lobster thermidor on the 2 hour Singapore – Bali flight in business class once, although I find there’s almost always better choices on Singapore than the lobster and those short flights no longer allow for this service.)
Malaysia Airlines does the absolute best job with satay of any airline.
I’m not super impressed by Cathay Pacific’s main meals, but their snacks are usually very very good — hot pots, egg tarts, even their shrimp quesadilla. I miss the old Cathay Pacific caviar presentation, though: caviar and balik salmon.
EVA Air offers good choice and also creativity on their Hello Kitty Jets.
You don’t even need to be flying in business class on EVA to get a good Hello Kitty meal presentation.
Of course it’s not all unicorns and rainbows out there, I flew United first class where there were no menus. The flight attendant explained that one of the choices was meat. “How’s it prepared?” I asked. “It’s Indian.” Oh, ok.