Why Do Some Things Seem So Much Better in the Air?

There are some things I love that just cannot be replicated in the air. Food is certainly difficult though I’ve actually had great meals on a plane.

And then there are things that seem to taste better on board when — even given just a little bit of thought — they don’t even come close to what you’d have on the ground.

I’m picky about ice cream, like I am picky about a lot of things. And yet, give me ice cream on a plane — where I have very few choices and the ice cream is usually pretty poor quality — and I get downright giddy.

Ice cream is usually served rock solid. US airlines serve ice cream I would never stock in my own freezer, or probably even accept if offered on the ground. Why do I get excited for it in the air?

There’s probably something about childhood and comfort food that makes it a treat to be offered, though I don’t have a fully formed theory on this.

Are there things you appreciate more in the air than on the ground? Why do you think that is?

    American Airlines Ice Cream Sundae

    American Airlines Ice Cream Sundae

    British Airways Ice Cream Sundae

    British Airways Ice Cream Sundae

    United Airlines Ice Cream Sundae

    Cathay Pacific cherry clafoutis cake with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis

    Cathay Pacific serves Haagen Dazs

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. That is an old pic of a UA ice cream sundae. The generic stuff they use now is served in a glass, with no cookie, even in Global First.

  2. A purser once taught me to have amaretto splashed over the top of the ice cream so that it melts faster and also improves the taste of the ice cream. Ever since then, it’s worked and taste a whole lot better too!

  3. You aren’t alone in your passion for in-flight ice cream Gary – http://threadtripping.boardingarea.com/2014/07/frequent-flyer-food-fight/

    I’m onboard with you with regard to there being “something” about ice cream . I don’t tend to eat much of it at home. But for some reason a vacation really feels like a vacation when I’m enjoying an ice cream cone. Like you say, it isn’t even about the quality. It’s more like the physical representation of “escape”.

    I also do not have a fully formed theory on this 🙂

  4. I have to agree with the ice cream. There is something about having a sundae while hurtling through the sky that puts a smile on my face every time.

  5. Movies. I choose movies on the plane I would never choose “in real life” and I love them all. And I get super emotional. The next time you see a woman on a plane bawling her eyes out over Hotel For Dogs 2 just come on over and say hi.
    My family has even figured it out that anything I recommend after getting off a plane is, at best, 30% as good as I tell them it is.

  6. A powerful predictor of preference in travel (and elsewhere) is perceived exclusivity. We want things we might not otherwise desire because other people can’t have them/because they are expensive. That’s got to be much of the attraction of domestic airline lounges (because if not, what else is?). Probably not the whole story, but I’m sure part of what explains why I accept the ice cream in this context, despite its not being very attractive when considered on its own terms, has to do with wanting to take full advantage of the (ahem) opportunity that I don’t have when flying economy. And then I hate myself for the useless and not very tasty calories later.

  7. I honestly can’t think of anything I enjoy better in the air than on the ground. The changing cabin pressures make eating an especially miserable experience. I feel too full whether I’ve eaten or not so the ice cream is not really appreciated. Nothing with carbs in it is a good experience. 🙁

  8. Making love is soo much better. My wife would never dream of boosting our marriage in a truck stop restroom but put us 32k feet in the air and she’s all for cramming in some nasty lavatory. Lucky man I am

  9. First time I ever had ice cream on a plane was Haagen Daz on a Continental DC-10, LAX-HNL-AKL. That was more than 30 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

  10. I’m not much of an ice cream fan on the ground or in the air, but I agree overall. I almost always get those crappy bloody marys, made with the canned mix, that I wouldn’t usual give the time of day. Johnny walker red, which I can’t remember ever having outside an aircraft, is a regular pre-flight request for me.

    For food I think some of the “magic” is the novelty of having a hot meal. There’s just something much more satisfying about food when its hot, especially when I’ve been eating my usual travel fare–protein bars and trail mixes that I’ve brought along, and usually cold sandwiches from the airport restaurant coolers.

  11. According to my daughter (who is home from college and driving us crazy) the reason we enjoy small treats while up in the air is because we are bored and any small diversion is exciting.

  12. For me I think it is the fact that about the only time I have a sundae is on a plane. Plus it is one of the few opportunities I get to have a dish prepared on a plane just the way I like it.

  13. As is common knowledge, our taste buds change when so high up in the air. Not only that, but our emotions change as well. That is why @elle, we think movies are better in the air and we become more emotional to the movies.

    I know for myself, I cry on airplanes after watching a sad movie wayyy more than on the ground

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