5 Important Things to Consider Before Bringing Food on a Plane

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Sara Kate Gillingham)

If you’re getting ready to hop on a plane for your summer vacation, don’t forget to pack some snacks in your carry-on. I mean, those skimpy bags of pretzels airlines give out just don’t cut it. It’s safer, more satisfying, and likely less expensive when you pack your own snacks.

As for what to pack, it’s one thing when you’re piled in the car with a few of your closest friends, but there’s a different set of rules when you’re cruising at 30,000 feet with a bunch of strangers.

There are certain foods that, as good as they are, just aren’t ideal for flying. Eating on a plane is a different ballgame. You’re sitting up close and personal with your fellow seatmates, with little space between the rows in front of and behind you. Don’t let your food be more obnoxious than that seat-kicker sitting behind the lady next to you. Think about that and consider these factors when planning your snacks.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

1. The Preparation Factor

Personal space on planes only seems to get tighter and tighter. I can barely cross my legs, so the idea of trying to assemble any kind of snack or meal in the confines of my tray table seems like a recipe for disaster. Avoid foods that need any additional prep or assembling just before eating. Instead stick with foods that are already assembled and ready to bite into.

2. The Refrigeration Factor

The lack of refrigeration might just be the biggest limiter when it comes to travel food. I prefer to stick with all non-perishables, since it gives me more flexibility and I’m less likely to end up wasting food. That’s not to say that perishable snacks aren’t an option. If that’s what you plan to pack, take a moment to consider how long it will last without refrigeration and when you plan to eat it.

3. The Smell Factor

You know your chicken curry tastes delicious; consequently it smells pretty darn good, too. And in your rush to catch your flight, you skipped dinner, so it’s going to feel really amazing to dive into it after settling into your seat.

Here’s the thing, though — while you might be enjoying it, the people three rows up, and more importantly, the passengers next to you, definitely do not want to smell your food. Consider the smell factor of any food you bring with you, and stay away from items with overpowering odors.

4. The Noise Factor

Again, you’re packed into tight quarters without the option to go very far, so just as your neighbors shouldn’t be able to smell your food, they shouldn’t have to hear you chomping away either.

5. The Mess Factor

I love spare ribs as much as the next person, but there’s a time and place for them. And that place is not an in-flight meal. Save those finger-lickin’-good ribs for another time. Consider the mess factor that goes along with the food you pack. Avoid things that involve a lot of crumbs, cleanup, or dirty hands.

Updated from post originally published July 30, 2015.