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The worst 5 business-class meals in the sky

Jan. 30, 2021
11 min read
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Now more than ever before, the desire to travel -- and travel in style -- is top of mind.

Flying in business class, you'd be forgiven for assuming it was all Champagne, caviar and a constant supply of culinary delights for hours on end. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Related: Caviar on tap: Flying Etihad's first-class Apartment from JFK-Abu Dhabi

In this round-up, you'll get an insight into the five worst business class meals that TPG staff has eaten in recent times.

Related: The 6 best and worst inflight mehttps://thepointsguy.com/news/best-worst-inflight-meals-last-year/als I ate last year

Given that reviewing flights hasn’t been possible for the majority of 2020 and start of 2021, the meals featured in this write-up were consumed during reviews published from January 1, 2019. The below rankings take into account the best food options our reviewers took in pre-COVID-19 times. Note that if you plan to fly with one of these carriers during the pandemic, the inflight food offerings may be significantly different.

Related:

China Eastern

Score: 6.4/20 (in line with the updated scoring system)

Serving up the worst business-class meal we've experienced for a while was China Eastern on this flight from Shanghai to JFK.

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Related: China Eastern just became the largest airline in the world by seat count (for now)

In distinctly non-business-class style, a crew member took a menu around for the passengers and waited for them to choose while holding it open. Business-class passengers can almost always expect to have their own full menu as standard. This was a sign of things to come.

The next surprise was that no soup or dessert would be served. When a bemused Ethan Steinberg, contributing writer for TPG, asked why, he was told this was because he was "on an evening flight." Said no other airline, ever.

Thankfully, he was still served a starter. This was a rather rubbery fish dish.

Even the accompanying Roosevelt Reserve sparkling wine was just "drinkable".

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Would you actually expect "braised beef tendon" to be an actual tendon? Surely it was a bad translation for brisket? Wrong! That's a mistake Ethan made and said he'll "never make again as long as I live".

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

The crumbs on the empty side plate are from the garlic bread which saved the day.

To add insult to injury, the whole meal was served on an overly familiar economy class tray.

Still hungry after barely eating any of his previous courses, Ethan rejoiced at the sight of a dessert trolley being wheeled down the cabin. But the arrival of two tiny plates, one with six tiny pieces of fruit and the other with two tinier pieces of cheese, was a disappointment.

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

I can't imagine Ethan had high expectations for his pre-landing meal. He'd be right not to. Even though this was an overnight flight, the pre-landing meal was also a dinner service. Ethan's starter consisted of a slimy-leaved salad -- gross.

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

The main course which followed was as delicious as "braised pork balls" in a brown sauce could ever sound: not very. Let's just say it's a good thing that wasn't a literal description like the evening meal.

"Breakfast" also included the same steamed and overcooked rice and flavorless vegetables that accompanied the first meal.

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Out of sheer hunger, Ethan ate the lot and even had to raid the tiny snack basket in the galley after he'd finished.

It's safe to say the food onboard this flight was even worse than what was served on our lowest-scoring business-class flight review, titled "The worst business class I ever flew."

EgyptAir

Score: 10/20

In joint second- and third-worst place are two very different airlines: Egyptair and — you might be surprised by this — Lufthansa.

With both scoring 10/20 in the food and drink category and 61/100, this was a real draw. I'll start alphabetically with Egyptair.

It's worth noting before we start that Egyptair is a dry airline, meaning no alcohol is served. This isn't taken into consideration when grading the food and beverage category.

To begin, menus were handed out, detailing both the hot lunch/dinner and hot breakfast options that would be served. Having assumed that lunch/dinner would be served first, TPG's Zach Honig was surprised when his breakfast selection was the first meal instead.

Needless to say, it was a disappointingly oily slop.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Just five hours later, Zach was served the only other scheduled meal on his 11-hour flight.

The overcooked steak was drowned in a strange brown sauce and accompanied with soggy veggies. Yum.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Zach only had a couple of bites of the hard pastry, which he was given for dessert.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Unsurprisingly, hunger struck before landing. Zach ordered the mini sandwiches from the snack menu.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Mini was an accurate description for not just the size of the bread buns, but also the quantity of filling inside them.

Overall, this was a very poor effort from Egyptair.

Lufthansa

Score: 10/20

It would appear Zach has a track record for bad business-class meals. His flight from Seattle (SEA) to Frankfurt (FRA) on board Lufthansa's 747-400 earned itself a spot in our worst business-class meal round-up. Note that this is the smaller version of Lufthansa's much-loved 747-800.

On the plus side, he'd already been served a total of three drinks (one sparkling rosé and two German beers) before the first course of his meal had even been served.

For starters was a salmon tartare, which Zach had neither a good nor bad word to say about.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

About 30 minutes later, which you might agree is quite some time between courses, came his beef filet with mac 'n' cheese. It was actually just mac, as there was no cheese in sight.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Dessert featured a similar "lacking" theme, only this time it was just cheese -- no crackers.

Breakfast the next morning looked hearty and was well-presented. While the fruit tasted fresh, the eggs were bland and spongy. It's rare to find a well-cooked egg anywhere in the sky though, to be fair.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Related: 9 brunches worth traveling the world for

Lufthansa really missed the mark with this food offering. While the food was edible, the are certain expectations when it comes to business-class food and these definitely weren't met on this occasion.

United Airlines

Score: 10/20

In the fourth-worst runner-up spot is another 10/20-scoring flight, also flown by Honig. This time it was a United flight from Newark (EWR) to Tokyo (NRT). Overall, this flight scored 80/100, which is why it featured fourth after Egyptair and Lufthansa.

Let's find out what happened.

Related: 10 things no one tells you about Tokyo

Thankfully, Zach had pre-reserved one of the few Japanese meals onboard, though there was nowhere near enough sake for an entire flight.

In true Japanese style, starters came in an abundance. Zach commented that the quality wasn't as good as it would have been if it had been served on the leg leaving Japan.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

His main course of baked salmon and egg was flavourful.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

And to finish things off nicely, the dessert of strawberry, cherry and hot fudge sundae was as delicious as it looked.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

You might be wondering then what caused such a low score of 10/20.

Enter moldy blueberries.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

So moldy, in fact, that it had welded itself to a piece of watermelon. Hard pass.

Zach's travel buddy's berries were also moldy.

This is quite frankly outrageous. Not only does it mean this fruit was likely prepared well in advance of the flight, but the flight attendants should never have let this be served to a customer.

American Airlines

Score: 12.8/20 (in line with the updated scoring system)

Scoring a less-than-average 12.8 out of 20, TPG's Nicky Kelvin's mediocre experience in American Airlines' business class from New York to London resulted in the U.S. flag carrier landing in our bottom five.

The first letdown was the lack of alcoholic welcome beverage. In most cases, guests are offered a glass of something sparkling, or at least a juice in business class. Instead, Nicky had to settle for a small bottle of water. which was at his seat when he boarded.

Nicky's starter, main and side salad were all served at once. This is more akin to the service in premium economy rather than business class, where you can usually expect to have each course brought to you separately.

While the starter and salad were tasty, the main course of buffalo skillet chicken was dense and dry and could have done with being crispier. The same dryness was experienced with the singular (as opposed to the advertised plural) tasteless jalapeño corn cake.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The saving grace of the evening meal was the caramel-cone ice cream dessert, which, as you can see, Nicky thoroughly enjoyed.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

As far as breakfasts go as a pre-landing meal, American made a decent job of this one. Nicky said it was a solid breakfast, and by the look of it, there was a perfect balance of healthy plus carby stodge to set one up for the day.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

I'm sure you'll agree that while this experience wasn't awful, it certainly fell short compared to what we ate in our top-scoring business class meals.

Bottom line

Flying in business class, you expect the airline to put their money where their mouth is. This round-up is proof that this is not always the case.

To make sure you get your money's worth and don't end up with the sub-par meals that feature in this round-up, we advise doing a bit of extra research when deciding whether to upgrade yourself from premium economy on your next flight.

It's worth pointing out that it would be unfair to say that if you flew these airlines on these routes that you would have an equally bad experience. However, these experiences are worth taking into consideration when planning your next business-class jaunt.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
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Rewards

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Recommended Credit

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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees