Industry Article: The future of healthy food onboard flights

healthy eating onboard

Our dietitian Melissa Adamski shares travel nutrition insights regarding the interesting, yet somewhat controversial topic, of serving healthy foods onboard in a World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo industry article.

There is much debate about whether people want healthy food onboard flights and so this is a timely article offering the travel industry insights and solutions about how to proceed.

healthy food onboard flights

Between an apple and bag of crisps: The future of healthy food onboard

Melissa Adamski APD BSc MND
Travel Nutrition Ambassador WTCE

Food is a pivotal part of travel. Personally, I’m excited when I get on a plane to see the menu and choose which meal to have while I sit back and enjoy a book or movie. However, this enjoyment can quickly evaporate if served a poor-quality meal. I know what you’re thinking, as a dietitian I have different expectations to other passengers – don’t worry I quite enjoy a bag of crisps on a flight occasionally too.

Though it’s assumed the ‘healthiness’ of foods is not first on passengers’ agendas when choosing what to eat when flying. But is this the case? Or are passenger food preferences changing?

Recent industry reports into passenger food preferences outline the growing interest in healthy eating in the air. The 2023 Passenger Experience report by En Route International highlights several key trends in passenger food solutions.

These include interest in holistic wellness, the use of high-quality ingredients and the changing dietary requirements of passengers (driven by a growing awareness of the link between diet and health). WTCE’s 2023 article on evolving passenger food preferences highlights 70% of consumers want to be healthier and half of these consider healthy eating as a top priority.

But do people actually want healthy food in the air?

While the trends seem clear and align with a general growing interest in food and nutrition, the picture gets a little confusing regarding what passengers actually want (and choose) to eat in the air. There seems to be a real dichotomy regarding serving healthy food on planes. On one hand, people say they want to eat healthy food, but on the other hand conversations within the travel industry suggest once people are onboard, they want comfort style foods with health considerations going out the window.

Published research conducted with passengers in regard to what they eat on flights is starting to provide insight into passenger food preferences and behaviours. One study published in 2020 explored how travellers manage jet lag, with 26% of passengers indicating they ate healthy foods during a flight, while 30% ate lighter or heavier meals during a flight (1).

Interestingly, research into food intakes when flying highlighted passengers had more positive responses to food when larger meals were eaten and when they were able to be guided by appetite rather than having no choice (2). There have also been studies exploring how onboard food affects passenger’s airline selections, suggesting food quality plays a role (3,4). 

So if passengers are interested in ‘healthy’ foods – what is healthy?

To read the rest of the article visit the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo industry article

  1. Yu Sun Bin, Susan Ledger, Monica Nour, Svetlana Postnova, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Peter A. Cistulli, Philip de Chazal, Margaret Allman-Farinelli, Corinne Caillaud, Adrian Bauman & Stephen J Simpson (2020) How do travelers manage jetlag and travel fatigue? A survey of passengers on long-haul flights, Chronobiology International, 37:11, 1621-1628, DOI: 10.1080/07420528.2020.1787427
  2. Jim Waterhouse, Shaoyuan Kao, Benjamin Edwards, Greg Atkinson & Thomas Reilly (2006) Factors Associated with Food Intake in Passengers on LONG-HAUL FLIGHTS, Chronobiology International, 23:5, 985-1007, DOI: 10.1080/07420520600921104
  3. Abbas, T., & El Gamal, H. (2015). The Impact of On-board Food Attributes on Passengers’ Satisfaction and Loyalty. International Academic Journal Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management, 1(1), 159-179. doi: 10.21608/ijaf.2015.95626
  4. Aleksić M, Popov Raljić J, Gajić T, Blešić I, Dragosavac M, Penić M, Bugarčić J. Factors of Airline Selection and Reflight Intention During the Pandemic/Case of Serbian Airlines Users. Front Psychol. 2022 Jul 4;13:915321. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.915321.

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