Five expert tips to get the best of airline buy-on-board food

By John Walton, June 5 2012

More and more airlines are offering buy-on-board food instead of -- or in addition to -- their regular meal services, meaning rushed travellers often end up going hungry or having to settle for something deeply unpalatable.

While Australians travelling domestically on business are relatively well catered for by Qantas and Virgin Australia, start heading further afield and you might be lucky to get a packet of pretzels for free, even in the pointy end of the plane.

And sometimes, the buy-on-board options are actually much tastier than your flexible ticket's inclusive meal.

Australian Business Traveller sat down with Nikos Loukas from InflightFeed, fresh from a 20-airline marathon around Europe to try out buy-on-board food, to bring you five fantastic tips for getting the best bite by buying on board. (The real-world snaps in this article are also part of the InflightFeed labour of love.)

Pre-order if your airline allows it

You might not think to pre-order buy-on-board food, but many airlines allow (or even encourage) it, often with discounts for pre-ordering.

"If you have the option to pre order do it!" Loukas advises wholeheartedly.

And if you've forgotten to pre-order but want a meal?

"If you don't pre-order, try to get a seat closer to the front of economy class, or in the middle of the cabin. Most airlines' inflight service standards for crew require the crew to commence inflight service from the start of economy, and the crew work their way back."

This pre-ordered menu from UK airline TUI is head and shoulders above the regular meal.

Ask the crew to save you a meal if you're seriously hungry

"If you haven't pre ordered and you feel you may miss out, let the crew know," Loukas suggests.

"I did it once on a flight, as I knew that the flight was probably double-catered from the originating port, and meal levels would probably be low. I politely asked a crew member if they could save me a hot meal. It was a 3 hour flight, and I was starving. They obliged. Of course it comes down to your crew, but a little politeness and niceness can sometimes go a long way."

Consider buying on board even if you get a regular meal

"Some of the pre order options which are available to passengers are actually better than normal food options dished out for free," Loukas points out.

On Air New Zealand across the Tasman, passengers in top option Works Deluxe and second class Works Deluxe get a meal -- but it's often a very economy "brown meat in brown sauce with white carbs" option. The buy-on-board sandwiches are well worth it.

Nikos Loukas calls Aer Lingus' food "possibly the best options available" for buy-on-board food.

Pick the premium option if you can

"Premium buy-on-board is really taking off," Loukas quips, explaining that there are several airlines that now offer a fairly decent bite to eat.

"If you're travelling to the USA with connections on Delta they offer the DineUp options for passengers," including this tempting-sounding antipasto plate:

Flavorful trio starts with thinly sliced salami, peppers, wedges of smoked Gouda and brie cheeses, fresh strawberries and red grapes. Alongside sliced seared beef tenderloin, with roasted bell peppers and cippolini onions, and grilled rosemary shrimp with fresh jicama slaw. Creamy horseradish sauce on the side.

The DineUp option is only available on selected flights, so check out the website to see if your flight number is included.

Air France and KLM also offer premium meal options, while Air New Zealand lets you buy yourself a glass of top-notch New Zealand wine from business class.

This premium meal from German airline Condor is a decent upgrade from the regular meal, Nikos Loukas tells us.

Check whether the airline takes only cash, only cards or both

"Credit cards seem to be the way of the future," Loukas predicts. "It's easier for the airlines to manage, safer for crew not having to handle so much cash, but can be a pain for passengers."

Some airlines don't accept cards at all, though, insisting on cash. So carry both if you can, or at least be forewarned about what your options are.

"Some airlines don't accept cash at all," warns Loukas. "Certain debit cards are not accepted by the airlines and will automatically be declined, as it can be difficult for the airlines to recover funds once the paperwork and credit cards are processed on the ground a few days after the flight. Have a back up card just in case."

What do you reckon?

What's your coping strategy for buying on board? Do you aim to pick something up at the airport? Do you trust that some security idiot isn't going to call your sandwich a liquid and bring it from home or work? Or are you a firm buyer-on-board already? Sound off in our comment section below!

Hungry for more on inflight food? Check out some of this year's Australian Business Traveller Food Week: 

For more news, reviews and the very latest info for business travellers, follow us on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton
John Walton

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.



05 Jun 2012

Total posts 31

I remember having the breakfast on a flight on Aer Lingus from CDG to DUB in either 2001 or 2004. It was and still is the best airline meal I've ever had (all travel tagically in Y) and I didn't have to pay since EI were still a full service airline at the time. The only one that has come close is the breakfast I had on Emirates on a MEL-AKL service in 2010.

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