A Brief History of Airline Food

In-flight meals have changed a lot since their debut nearly a century ago.

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The first airline meal is served on a Handley Page Transport flight from London to Paris. The cold box lunch includes fruit and a sandwich and costs three shillings.


Passengers traveling between Berlin and Paris on Lufthansa’s 15-seat Flying Dining Car enjoy the first in-flight hot-meal service. Warm food is loaded onto the plane in insulated bottles.


United Airlines introduces the first functional airplane kitchen and gives passengers a choice of entrée: fried chicken or scrambled eggs.


Pan American Airways serves complete meals of meat, potatoes and vegetables in partitioned trays. The frozen dinners are heated in convection ovens mid-flight, a concept that inspires the TV dinner seven years later.


Pan Am starts daily commercial transatlantic jet service from New York City to Europe, launching the golden age of air travel: white tablecloths, silver coffee carafes, fine china and extravagant beef and chicken dishes.


Texas-based Southwest Airlines takes off, marketing itself as the “peanut airline” and offering rock-bottom fares in exchange for minimal perks. The company offers nothing to eat but a free packet of peanuts.


To cut costs, American Airlines chief Robert Crandall decides to remove one olive from every first-class salad plate, saving the airline $40,000 per year!


Jet Blue arrives and gains a following by offering free snacks, including its signature Terra Blues chips. These days, the airline hands out about 8 million bags of them annually.


In the wake of September 11, air travel drops, and nearly every major airline eliminates meal service on domestic flights to cut costs. As a safety precaution, all knives are temporarily banned from both commercial flights and airport restaurants.


Emirates opens the largest flight catering facility on earth — big enough to make more than 115,000 meals a day.


Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan partners with American Airlines to revamp menus for international flights from the US. She creates dishes like duck confit pot pie and lamb osso buco.


A flight attendant makes headlines after blogging about the difficulty of serving Diet Coke in the air: Apparently it’s so fizzy that it takes longer to pour than other drinks. It hasn’t stopped fliers from ordering it, though!