It's not news to say that airplane food is bad. In fact, unless you're flying a foreign carrier or are on a long-ish international flight, your flight might not even offer meals—in today's "pay extra for everything except your seat" era, Southwest Airlines is considered generous for offering free pretzels and peanuts.
To be sure, while travelers should ultimately be grateful for whatever they're given for "free" on a flight, some airplane food is so bad it arguably doesn't deserve thanks. I've cherry-picked these airlines based on my own personal experience (and photos of meals from the fantastic AirlineMeals.net), but the fact is that terrible food is about as common at 35,000 as sub-zero temperatures.
01 of 05
To say Air China (or any Chinese airlines) has a less than sterling reputation is a huge understatement. Objectively, the airline has a two-star rating from Skytrax, the authority on assessing airline quality. This is embarrassing enough on its own (both of the major airlines in neighboring Japan, for example, have recently earned five-star ratings), but especially when you consider that Air China has been trying.
For example, China's flag carrier has added dozens of new aircraft to its fleet, including the Boeing 777-300 and the 747-8i, the revamped version of the perennial "Queen of the Skies."
Indeed, while Air China is by most measures a mediocre airline on its best day, the food it serves passengers is especially abysmal, something that seems to be true whether you're in economy class, or even premium first and business classes.
What's worse is that the quality of food on Air China doesn't seem to improve when departing from Beijing's Capital Airport,... where the airline's central catering department is located.
02 of 05
United Airlines has had a rough few years. Like American and Delta, the other surviving U.S. "legacy" carriers, United swallowed up one of its competitors during the last decade, part of a larger industry consolidation that was supposed to create a leaner, more consumer-friendly environment for air travelers.
Unfortunately for United, neither its revenues nor its brand image have improved much (certainly, not compared with the new American and especially Delta post-2008). Even the airline's genuine attempts to better itself have been met with opposition—sometimes, from the Universe. Last year, for example, the person United tapped to replace long-embattled CEO Jeff Smisek suffered a heart attack right after assuming his post. Ouch!
Like Air China, which just so happens to be one of United's Star Alliance partners, United can list terrible food among the reasons it seems to be performing so poorly. I remember sitting in economy one particular flight last year, from Osaka to... San Francisco, and being served foil-wrapped sandwiches, featuring cheese, ham and gobs of mayonnaise spread over un-toasted bread—and that's just what I can remember off-the-cuff!
03 of 05
Crazy as it sounds, North Korea is near the top of my travel bucket list. I love visiting countries that polarize public opinion, one way or another, and being able to argue for the opposite position after having visited myself.
Unfortunately for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, one aspect of the country I won't be able to advocate for, as a Devil or otherwise, is the food on flag carrier Air Koryo, which was recently rated the worst airline in the world.
04 of 05
Ukraine International Airlines
I met a lovely young Ukrainian couple during my 2014 trip to Azerbaijan, and while I haven't yet made good on my promise to visit the country, it's still a high priority for me. The media has really portrayed Ukraine as an unsafe place, in spite of simultaneously vilifying the Russian government who's arguably responsible for much of Ukraine's unrest, and I want to paint the picture of a country filled with sweet people like Yulia and Piotr.
Anyway, I still plan to do this, as I said—I just hope I don't have to get on a Ukraine International Airlines (or UIA) plane in order to do so! I don't know a lot about the service standards on these planes in general, barring the fact that said planes tend to be quite old, but I do know that much of the food the airline serves seems to border on inedible.
Actually, come to think of it, I'm not really certain what the culinary tradition of Ukraine is—perhaps, the kindness of my friends notwithstanding, the food Ukraine... International Airlines serves is not too far off from what I'll eat in the country in general?Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
I didn't know that Adria Airlines existed prior to 2012, when I took a short flight from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, to Zürich, Switzerland. It seemed strange that the national airline of Slovenia would be called Adria, given that Slovenia has only a sliver of shoreline along the Adriatic, but I went with it. I was earning frequent flier miles, after all, and the flight was something like an hour in length, maybe even shorter.
I guess I should've been thankful, given the short flight duration, that the (very friendly and attentive) crew offered me a meal at all. Unfortunately, the foodstuff they provide (I believe it was supposed to be a sandwich of some kind) was beyond inedible. In fact, had I actually been so hungry as to need nourishment during my short journey to Switzerland, I might've actually eaten the (beautiful) box the sandwich was packed in.
Thankfully, however, I had the sense to eat something in the airport before departure, which I recommend all of you... do if you have to fly any of these airlines in the future.