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Fly&Dine Tuesday: The Strangest Things Found in Airline Meals

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Welcome to Fly&Dine Tuesday, a new monthly column that explores the intersection of food and travel with the help of TPG Contributor (and expert food writer) Jason Kessler of Fly&Dine, the best online source for dining while you fly.

Needles. Lizards. Maggots. No, these aren’t things you can expect to find in the infirmary at Hogwarts — they’re actually items that passengers have found in airline meals over the past few years. Sure, airline food has been the butt of jokes for decades, but there’s nothing funny about these flight food mishaps. If you were scared to find out what that mystery meat in brown gravy really is, you’d be downright terrified to examine your in-flight meal and see any of these horrifying surprises hiding inside…

Photo by ZaldyImg.


Imagine biting into your turkey sandwich, only to find that along with the lettuce and the mayo, an inch-long needle was included as an ingredient. That nightmare was a reality for Minneapolis resident Jim Tonjes, who nearly got a surprise injection on a Delta flight from Amsterdam (AMS) to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) back in 2012. “I’ll be very honest, the first bite, I thought, ‘Boy, this is pretty good’. It was the second bite that got me,” Tonjes says in a Telegraph article at the time. This wasn’t just a one-off mistake, though. Needles were found in six different sandwiches on flights originating from Amsterdam, although luckily, no one else was harmed.

The same can’t be said for marketer Thomas Lui, who got a mouthful of metal on a Dragonair flight back in April 2015 when he discovered a 2.5cm syringe tip in his pork and rice dish. The airline put the blame on its pork supplier, but Lui says he felt it when he bit into his rice. Intentional or not, the airlines need to start injecting some common sense into their food safety programs, because needles shouldn’t even be near our in-flight meals in the first place.

Photo by stevendepolo.

Broken Glass

Annie Lennox may enjoy walking on broken glass, but nobody wants to spend their time chewing on it. Unfortunately, that’s what Dr. Jay Caldwell and his wife Diana encountered when they flew in first class from Chicago (ORD) to Tucson (TUS) on American Airlines back in June 2012. You’d expect first-class food to be prepared a little more carefully than the heat-and-go dreck you usually find in economy, but that’s not what the good doctor found. Instead, while trying to enjoy his raspberry cheesecake sundae, he got a pane-ful surprise: a fingernail-sized piece of glass. Mrs. Caldwell got the same unpleasant topping in her sundae. American apologized for the mistake and offered 15,000 miles as restitution, but according The Points Guy’s latest miles and points valuations, those AAdvantage miles are only valued at 1.7 cents apiece, which makes AA’s compensation offer worth only $255 — way less than your typical flight in first.

Photo by mcalamelli.


While biting down on needles and glass can be extremely harmful to your health, chewing on insects can be bad for your psyche. After all, once you find maggots in your food, how are you supposed to trust eating anything, ever again? An Australian woman faced that dilemma on a Qantas flight when the snack mix she was enjoying from Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL) ended up being crunchier than expected. When the woman examined the package, she found live, wriggling maggots inside.

As if maggots weren’t bad enough, versions of their entire life cycle have made their way onto planes as of late. Ever heard the old joke about a man finding a fly in his soup? Well, in the real-life version that unfolded this past February, word got out that a young New Zealander found said fly inside her salad on an Emirates flight. Sadly, there’s no punchline here — just a whole lotta gross.

Photo by Flickpicpete.


Maybe you don’t flinch at insects. After all, they’re full of protein, right? If bugs don’t bother you, though, I’m curious to know how you feel about lizards.

Just last month, Air India accidentally served up a small gecko-esque creature on a flight from Delhi (DEL) to London (LHR). Thanks to our modern era of social media, the photo of this reptilian offender has made its way all over the internet. Not great news for Air India, which seems to be courting trouble on a regular basis these days. Whether it’s problems with its Dreamliners or cantankerous pilots fighting each other in the cockpit, India’s national airline just can’t seem to catch a break.

These are all unfortunate mistakes, of course, but that doesn’t make them any less disgusting. Perhaps you’d be better off buying your meal in the terminal, or, better yet, just pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from home. There’s nothing to fear about that, right? Oh, wait…

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found in your own in-flight meal?

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