A Brief History of Airline Food

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

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1919

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.

1928

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.

1936

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

1946

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.

1958

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.

1977

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.

1987

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!

2000

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.

2001

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.

2007

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

2016

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.

2017

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!