Airplane Snacks: Then and Now

airplane snacks through the ages

In honor of National Pretzel Day yesterday, we’re chronicling the history of in-flight airplane snacks (since we all know that pretzels reign supreme when it comes to snacking while flying)! Believe it or not, snacks and meals on airlines actually began way back in the 1920s when jumbo-liners finally gained the space for kitchens and food storage. In an effort to provide the best in-flight experience, airlines clamored to offer the best onboard dining experiences. But with innovation comes iteration, and the snacks offered on flights have changed dramatically over the past 90 years. Take a look at all of the airline snack fads throughout the decades, from gourmet meals to trail mix and granola bars.

The 1920s

In 1919, the very first meal debuted on a flight from London to Paris on the now-defunct Handley Page Transport airline. Passengers could select between a small variety of pre-packed snack pack lunch boxes containing fruit and sandwiches. The success of this venture led to other airlines scrambling to find ways to appease their passengers’ appetites.

The 1930s through the 1950s

Thanks to the advent of larger aircraft that provided smoother journeys, many people no longer feared air travel sickness and planes were commissioned to be built with fully equipped kitchens on board. In 1936, United Airlines was the first to serve passengers hot meals straight from their galley kitchen. This “table service” created a whole new era of flying, often referred to as the “golden age of air travel.” This time period saw many airlines competing with one another offering first-class, all-inclusive dining options replete with silver cutlery and fine linens. There was no room for dried fruit and single-serving cookies. Pan-Am had a famous commercial in 1958 that boasted their spacious cabins and delicious food. Flying was the epitome of luxury.

The 1960s

In the 1960s, food served on airplanes became more than just a meal. It became an extravagant experience for first-class passengers. Classy airlines like British Airways, Concorde, and Air France became well-known for their high-quality cuisine. Flight attendants served dishes such as caviar, lobster and champagne during long flights.

The 1970s through the 1990s

In the 1970s, the price of airline tickets fell due to airline deregulation. This led to cut costs, and airlines began offering cheaper fares over premium food and service. During this time, budget airline Southwest introduced peanuts as a healthy airplane snack for passengers in lieu of full meals. They began using the phrase “peanut fares” for their great prices. As more flights started reducing their prices, free meals became obsolete in favor of cheap, easy-to-pack and long-lasting peanuts. Some meals were still being offered, just at an additional cost.

The 2000s & beyond

The aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the airline industry needed to implement even more stringent cost-cutting in order to stay afloat. The last few meal services remaining in economy-class were scrapped, and it became a common practice to only handle out small snacks and soft drinks. Despite peanuts being known as the snack of the airline industry for a few decades, that also changed. In the late nineties, many lobbied against it because of allergy risks associated with peanuts.

Now, many airlines instead have a bevy of snacks and soft drinks for purchase, or sometimes even complimentary depending on the airline. Check to see what’s included before take-off so you don’t have to endure a rumbling belly during your flight. Or make a run to your local grocery store, such as Trader Joe’s, to make your own snack bags. A few great snack ideas are chocolate-covered almonds, dried fruit or freeze-dried mangoes. Airplane snacks may not be what they used to be, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer during a long flight.

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