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The 6 best and worst in-flight meals I ate last year

Aug. 23, 2020
9 min read
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When we're reviewing flights, rating the drinks and meals onboard is one of the most important aspects, as the meal service can really set an airline apart from the rest -- for reasons both good and bad.

I took a lot of flights last year, which means I ate a lot of plane food.

Related: TPG staff travel highlights of 2019

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In general, and for good reason, I've always expected the food in business class to be better. I've come to realize that's not always the case and that just because you're flying in business doesn't mean to say you're going to be eating top-class food. The same can be said for economy — sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised by what comes out of the cart "down the back."

(Photo byaapsky/Getty Images)

That said, depending on individual perception, one meal might be to one person's taste but not to another's.

So, bearing all that in mind, let's start with the best, shall we?

Best meals

1. BA's economy mac and cheese, please

Though it's rare to find anyone who gets excited about the prospect of eating an economy meal on a long-haul flight, good meals do exist. In fact, Vikki Walker, TPG's points, miles and deals reporter, thoroughly enjoyed the economy meal she was served on her flight from Geneva to New York -- so much so that she gave the chicken, cheesy mashed potato and spinach full marks.

(Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

Not quite full marks, but very worthy of a feature in my top meals was this dreamy mac and cheese that I had on a British Airways flight from Heathrow (LHR) to Amman (AMM) last year. Though it might not look like much, the mac and cauliflower cheese dish was the kind I'd expect to get served up in a diner. My only criticism is that there wasn't enough -- I could have eaten it twice!

Related: Plane of thrones: A review of British Airways’ Airbus A321 in Club World from Amman to London

Mac and cheese served on a BA flight from London (LHR) to Amman (AMM). (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

2. Virgin's pie in the sky

If you've been reading TPG articles for a while, then you might already be familiar with my northernness and how much I absolutely loved this pie. It was my first time ever flying Virgin Atlantic and I was flying in Upper Class to review the product on the airline's 747. I had no idea what to expect in terms of meals, so when I saw that there was pie on the menu, it was the only thing I could possibly choose — and I didn't regret it. It was just as good as if it had been served to my seat straight out of a proper British pub.

Related: Ultimate guide to flying Virgin Atlantic

Pie in the sky on board Virgin's 747 from Manchester (MAN) to Atlanta (ATL). (Photo by Daniel Ross the Points Guy)

3. Going mad for LATAM's chicken salad

In November, I bagged myself a bargain when I upgraded my economy light fare from Madrid to Frankfurt to a lie-flat business class seat for $21. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from the short two-and-a-bit-hour, fifth-freedom flight from the Spanish capital to Germany's financial hub, even in business class. I didn't even upgrade for the food — it was more for the extra BA Tier Points I would earn for flying in business rather than economy.

While the meal wasn't revolutionary, it exceeded my expectations for sure. The chicken was tender and juicy, the salad ingredients were so tasty and fresh and the chocolate mousse dessert finished it off just perfectly. This was a personal flight, but if I had been reviewing it for TPG, it would have got near to full marks for sure.

Related: LATAM to leave Oneworld on May 1, earlier than expected

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
The meal served onboard LATAM's Boeing 787 from Madrid (MAD) to Frankfurt (FRA). (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Worst meals

Now, for the worst. From rice that could crack your teeth to rubbery breakfast eggs, I had my fair share of bad culinary experiences in the air last year. Here are three of the worst.

1. BA's rock-solid rice

On one of our first-ever projects at TPG U.K., we jumped onboard one of BA's Boeing 777-200s at Heathrow (LHR) and headed to Abu Dhabi (AUH) to review each of the four cabins at the same time -- you can watch the video here. We did a draw to decide who would be flying in which cabin, and I was lucky enough to fly in Club World, BA's business-class product.

Related: First-class service, economy-class food: British Airways Club World on the Boeing 777 from London to Abu Dhabi

Having flown Club World several times before, I was looking forward to my meal. However, I was rather disappointed with what I was served. While the lamb was delicious, the rice was pretty much inedible -- so much so that I sent it back as it ruined the meal.

(Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

2. Qatar's subpar economy breakfast

On the way back from Abu Dhabi, we thought we'd compare and contrast the A380s of the Middle East Big Three in economy class, as these are the airlines that U.K. travelers often use when flying to Asia, Australia and even Africa. You can watch our YouTube video of the experience here.

I was really looking forward to flying Qatar, as I never had before. I was initially really impressed with what was set down in front of me -- it looked like a very substantial and filling breakfast. I was unable to eat the apple and yogurt due to various intolerances, but the eggs, sausage and wedgies looked OK -- or so I thought.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

The eggs were rubbery, the wedges were soggy and the mini sausage were really, really mini.

Qatar's rubbery breakfast scrambled egg. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Everything else about the flight was great. So much so that I didn't want to get off the plane.

3. Hangry at Virgin's breakfast snack

Meals can be considered to be good or bad for different people for different reasons. This particular bad meal was on board my flight from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) last winter as we made a comparison between the five day flights that operate across the Atlantic. You can watch the video here.

Related: The best flights to ease jet lag when flying to or from New York

Personally, I struggle to function properly during the day if I haven't had something substantial to eat for breakfast. As a general rule on a long-haul flight, depending on its length, there are two to three meals served with one usually being more of a snack. From experience, the first meal is usually the main hot meal, including the main course, small starter, dessert and bread.

So, when I was served a tiny yogurt and a pot with four squares of melon in it about 45 minutes into the flight, I was rather surprised and disappointed. Thankfully, the second meal made up for it, but by the time that arrived around 90 minutes before landing, I was absolutely starving. This is definitely worth noting if you're planning on flying one of Virgin's day flights across the Atlantic.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

I've learned first hand that just because you're flying in economy, you're not guaranteed to get served terrible food. And on the same note, flying in business doesn't always mean fine dining. Now what's this they say about first class where the food is guaranteed to be amazing?

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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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
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

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  • 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.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases