The History of Airplane Food

Posted in In the Air

We’ve all seen the photographs of air travelers decades ago flying in their finest suits and dresses, but did you know the quality of the food used to match the quality of their outfits?

Nowadays, it’s commonplace to criticize the food we’re eating in-flight, but in the early days of aviation, people were more than content to enjoy cold fried chicken and sandwiches on their DC-3s. This all comes from a recent article in’s “Hungry History” series, where writer Stephanie Butler gives a brief overview of the history of airplane food and how our airplane eating options have evolved.

In the days of WWII, airports were fully equipped to prepare much more impressive meals like beef tenderloin (sound familiar?) and EWR even had a full bakery on-site:

By the late 1930s and early 1940s, the days of cold chicken and fruit were gone. Airplanes had heating elements, and airports had kitchens where teams of cooks stewed tomatoes, stuffed lamb chops and roasted beef tenderloins, all for sky consumption. In a 1938 article detailing the food service program at Newark Airport, Mrs. G. Thomas French explained how she managed the kitchen program for the entire airport. She proudly noted that her kitchen “does all our own baking – pies, tarts, pastries, cream roll desserts, breads and muffins.†She even knew individual passengers likes and schedules, and wouldn’t serve the same meal two consecutive Mondays if she knew that meant a specific traveler would have the same meal twice.


The true halcyon days of sky dining came in the ’60s when meals were prepared to order for you. Feeling like duck l’orange? No problem. They’ll make it specifically for you.

As we all well know, those days are behind us — at least on American carriers. For a quick lesson on the history of airplane food, check out the whole article here.



  1. I remember the stories from my father when he was flying cross country from IAD to the west coast. Although he was always in coach he did enjoy the meals. When my parents were in their 70s I sent them to Europe on AF (IAD-CDG) in Business Class and to this day my mother (age 89) still talks about how much she enjoyed the food. Currently I am sitting on my DCA-SLC flight waiting for my cereal.

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