What Pilots Eat When They Fly
Since we now know what flight attendants eat while flying, how about pilots? How do they refuel while in the cockpit? Curious, I queried six pilots, both men and women, who fly a mix of domestic and international routes. Below, their in-air meals of choice, along with food-related pro-flying tips to stave off the hangries.
Turkish Airlines: Hakkı Burçin Tekes, Istanbul-based
A Typical Meal: As a pilot who has to live a healthy life, I always take care of myself and have an adequate and balanced diet. I usually have an omelet for breakfast, and light options for lunch, like a salad or low-carbohydrate meal alternatives. For dinner, I like to eat lighter foods such as soup, meat, or fish.
Best Travel Tip: Don’t eat too much before the flight, but don’t stay hungry either. A light meal is always a good start before the flight. Stay away from gaseous drinks.
Alaska Airlines: Susan Sherman, Anchorage-based
A Typical Meal: We get some interesting crew meals provided, so I often try to bring my own. I’ll wrap sandwiches (rolls from Costco, lots of veggies, sometimes packed separately so as not to get soggy), cheese, sometimes turkey, in parchment paper, and they’ll keep for my four-day trips. Cafe Yumm in Oregon makes some delicious rice bowls, and I replicate them—rice, beans (red, black, or white), whatever veggies I have, chicken, tofu, or tempe, drizzled with sauce. The flight attendants can heat it for me in their oven, and I can top with tomato and avocado.
Best Travel Tip: Carry TSA-friendly snacks like nuts, protein bars, and sandwiches, along with a reusable water bottle (most airports now have bottle fill stations). Stay hydrated and avoid the hangries, and your trip will be more pleasant.
All Nippon Airways (ANA): Yuichi Nishiyama, Tokyo-based
A Typical Meal: On ANA domestic flights, bento box—Japanese-style boxed lunch—is provided at each meal time. It generally contains rice and several delicious side dishes, which are typically healthy. On ANA international flights, crew meals are prepared with the choice of either Japanese or Western cuisine. It's nice to have a meal prepared for us, but some of my colleagues opt to buy their favorite meals from the airport or in the layover city. Japanese airports and ANA lounges offer a lot of tasty local specialty cuisine, whether it's carry-out sushi or rice balls!
Best Travel Tip: Don’t forget to stay hydrated in the aircraft. It's said that the quantity of water we need in the air is 100ml (3 ounces) per hour. After arriving at your destination, try to eat your meals by considering your original time zone for a few days. The stomach takes a little extra time to adapt to the new time zone. If you ever have a chance to visit San Francisco, I recommend you stop by Sotto Mare for a fantastic meal of cioppino!
Delta: Travis Blunt, Atlanta-based
A Typical Meal: I am currently flying domestic routes, so I always keep snacks in my bag to ensure I have them available when needed. Usually, I pack almonds or cashews, and definitely powder protein shakes. These snacks are lightweight, compact, and filling for a couple of hours. During my duty day, I typically eat a banana and a granola bar for breakfast. Then, I prefer to eat a salad for lunch. If I’m in ATL in Concourse B, I always choose a salad from Willy's Mexicana Grill. Eating a salad at lunch allows me to save room for dinner. When I get to my overnight destination, I always ask where the locals eat. I love trying the regional specialty. Whether it’s great Tex-Mex, barbecue, pizza or a unique sandwich, I am in heaven!
Best Travel Tip: Whenever you fly, always drink lots of water. Wherever you travel to, eat local food. I also recommend checking your bags when possible. It makes traveling a lot easier, plus you get the extra leg room. Also, Delta’s Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) baggage tracking technology allows you to track your bags via the Fly Delta mobile app. How cool is that!
Norwegian: Peter Swoboda-Bichler, London-based
A Typical Meal: Although we have a wide variety of crew meals loaded on board for our long-haul flights, I usually try to eat salads and lighter meals. Sometimes I pick up a snack at the airport on my way to the aircraft, like some sushi rolls in Bangkok or a nice orange chicken in San Francisco. My best kept secret is that I always carry a chocolate bar and a bag of Lifesafers in my flight bag, just in case I am in need for a sugar boost. Arriving at the destination, I always like to enjoy the local cuisine.
Best Travel Tip: Most importantly, make sure you drink enough water during the flight to stay hydrated. I drink as much as three liters during a 10-hour trip. Try to get up and move around at least every hour during your flight, to make sure your blood circulation is working properly. A banana is a nice and light energy boost, which also is a healthy way to satisfy your appetite.
Atlas Air: Starr Blum, Cincinnati-based
A Typical Meal: As a “freight dog,” my trips take me domestic and international. Due to the length I’m gone and the foreign countries I visit, packing leftovers from home and bringing certain foods isn’t an option. Every flight is catered with meals you can heat up, sandwiches, snacks, and fruit. As a general rule, I try to avoid consuming too many carbs and foods with preservatives. Salt is a killer when you’re fighting to stay hydrated in the dry air.
Best Travel Tip: Pack protein powder and rolled oats. Easy, just add water. Dining out is fun, but can also get monotonous and expensive, so I like to get out walking and find a local grocery store or deli.
Featured image of Qatar Airways pilots in the cockpit of a Boeing 777 by Christophe Archambault / AFP / Getty Images. All other images courtesy of the individual pilots interviewed.