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What should or shouldn't you eat and drink on a long haul flight?

I'm typically in a celebratory mood when I board my flight for Europe. In the past, I've had a nice glass of wine and have enjoyed treats I typically don't eat on a day-to-day basis like bread/rolls or more interesting desserts, as part of that celebration. However, this time around, to help combat jet lag and reduce water retention, I'm going to refrain from alcohol, caffeine, and any foods I know are going to cause me to retain more water than normal. Hydrate hydrate hydrate, as they say!

What do you typically indulge in or avoid when you fly? What's the worst or weirdest thing you've seen someone eat on a flight? Looking for both funny and serious responses! 😉

Posted by
2488 posts

About 20 years ago, midway through a flight from LAX-AKL my seat mate stood up and pulled his carryon bag down. He rummaged for a good 2 - 3 minutes and pulled out the biggest bunch of grapes I'd ever seen. No container or packaging, apparently they had just been rolling around loose. As expected, most of them were smashed. He offered me some, I declined, he ate the entire bunch meticulously and then fell asleep for the rest of the flight.

Posted by
531 posts

I wonder if he could get away with that today? Thinking about security and customs and things they will and won't let you transport, especially internationally.

Sticky situation. Pun intended.

Posted by
5113 posts

What do I avoid? Anything stinky. What do I eat? Whatever they offer or put in front of me. What do I drink? Welcome aboard sparkling wine? Thank you. A glass of Merlot with your beef tips? Don't mind if I do. Cup of tea after dinner? With lemon please. Coffee after breakfast? Absolutely. Plus a bottle of water to sip on in between. Life's too short.

Posted by
465 posts

I don't like to actually eat very much during a long flight--I feel really uncomfortable sitting in that little seat with anything close to a full stomach. Nerves, lack of movement, potential turbulence, and a sometimes delicate stomach have not made for good flights in the past. I sort of eat like a squirrel--nuts, granola bars, crackers, and some of the in-flight meal though I almost never eat the whole thing. I don't drink alcohol on a flight--I do tea, water, and sometimes cranberry juice or ginger ale. I'm pescatarian so that has an impact on what I eat as well, and it depends on if that is an option with the meals, and what they have "culinarily created" to be offered for those diets. I also tend to try to not look at what other people bring on the plane for food--kind of turns me off as well. Yes, I'm not very exciting meal-wise on a plane, I'm afraid. Food and flight have just never been a big party for me. It just amazes me when I see people really chowing down and drinking up on a flight. I am flying to Vietnam next year and actually a little nervous about going on my longest flight.

Posted by
1466 posts

By the time we board the plane for an overnight flight to Europe, I have already gotten myself several hours onto local time and I've eaten dinner hours before, so even though I can never sleep on the plane, it is night time for me --- I eat nothing until I am eating breakfast at breakfast time in Europe. It would wreck my anti-jetlag "program" to eat dinner in the middle of the night. I drink only water and sometimes a cranberry drink that Delta serves. Then, once at our destination (usually Italy), I eat and drink very well --- it is really worth it to indulge there, the opposite of eating airplane food! I just read somewhere that your tastebuds don't even work properly on an airplane.

Posted by
531 posts

Nancy, that's a great idea! I'm going to eat at the airport then brush my teeth and take my meds before the flight takes off. That way I can go to sleep right away!

Posted by
6669 posts

Generally I avoid alcohol on flights -- more powerful than on the ground, dries you out. But on an overnight, I'll have wine with dinner to help me relax and pretend to sleep. Likewise whatever calories I can get at dinner will help make me drowsy, I hope. No coffee till morning when I have to face the bleary landing and logistics -- though adrenaline is the main power source at that point.

I never turn down water or juice. Hydration is great, and I look for an aisle seat to make it easier to deal with the aftereffects.

Posted by
23464 posts

I am in Nancy's camp. We engage in a little time shifting for the two weeks prior. Our international flights leave around 8 pm so we may come to the airport as early as 3, 4 pm and have a major dinner in one of the better airport restaurants. So when we board it is close to bed time. With in an hour of take off we settle in, use ear plugs and eye shades, ignore all activity including food, and set watches to arrival time. With this approach we can get a few hours of marginal sleep but better than nothing. About an hour so before landing, we fresh up, have whatever is offered for breakfast and get the mind set for the arrival time. The effect is a slight off day on arrival, easy to sleep, and min jet lag the next day.

For the return flight we do nothing, enjoy the food, the entertainment, participate in everything, and have a miserable week adjusting back to our home time.

Posted by
1466 posts

That's so funny --- we do the same things as Frank on the trip home and with the same result.

Posted by
2393 posts

I am the rare bird...no jet lag. I sleep 5 hours a night at most so the sleep on an over night flight is fine. I do treat myself to first on points so it is comfy. I am always happy to be going so I do indulge on the welcome champagne, pre meal cocktail, wine with dinner...I do drink plenty of water in between. I eat the dinner and the breakfast. I land ready for the day and am good till close to normal bedtime. Life is short...

Posted by
169 posts

If you are prone to caffeine withdrawal headaches, then have a little caffeine at the time that you would have it at home. I found out the hard way that my body doesn't care what time zone it is in, if it has gone without caffeine for 24 hours than I am going to get a splitting headache.

Posted by
380 posts

I also usually upgrade to lie back Delta One seats on the way to Europe. I will partake in the first class meal, a beer and a glass or two of wine. I end with a shot of Zzzquil. I usually sleep pretty well and attack the day upon landing. My routine is not doctor recommended.

Posted by
1909 posts

I do okay drinking a little on the flight. Hard to pass the "free" top shelf bar in business if you upgrade.

Food-wise though I do try to go light and emphasize fiber and hydration (within reason - don't like to be up too much on plane to use restroom). It sucks to start a trip on the verge of constipation, but if you eat wrong and get dehydrated on the flight that's where you can end up ....

Posted by
7446 posts

“ If you are prone to caffeine withdrawal headaches, then have a little caffeine at the time that you would have it at home. ” I do have coffee on the plane with dinner and am still able to sleep on the plane. I place my tote or backpack on top of my tray, place the pillow on top of it, and I sleep with my head lying on the pillow. I sleep on my stomach or side at home, and this is the only way I really get get some sleep on the plane in Comfort Plus seats.

I eat whatever is served, usually opting for the vegetarian or chicken option. I bring a few single servings of mixed nuts or trail mix in case I’m hungry. I do drink water often.

Posted by
3232 posts

For years I used to pre-order a special meal, such as Indian Vegetarian, or Vegetarian.
Those meals used to be really good and you got served first, then were able to use the still clean bathrooms before the mob, and get settled into the night (usually) flight.
The past two or three times, a special meal has been quite horrible ; so I’ve gone back to the regular offerings.
I always bring unsalted almonds and raisins, some grapes, and some BabyBel cheeses and a few crackers, just in case the meal is inedible.
I don’t drink the alcohol offered, just stick to water and OJ
I try to stay well hydrated.
I don’t find airplane coffee appealing, it’s never hot enough for me, so if I need a hot drink , it’s tea…..still not as hot, but better than lukewarm coffee.
I try not to eat the offered dessert, as it’s mainly empty calories.
I sound fussy, but I also have an unpredictable stomach and want to avoid surprises midair.
I think “eating like a squirrel “ is a good plan!

I’ve never seen anyone eat anything strange on any of my flights…..I’m very happy to have always been on boring flights with no drama.
There….just gone and jinxed myself now! :o

Posted by
531 posts

Wrt airline snacks...

I used to fly Southwest a lot for work and the snacks they gave out were decent, but on one flight, in their infinite wisdom, they opted to hand out Fritos. Now I love a good bag of Fritos (salty and delish!), but it is one of the stinkiest things you could eat on a plane. They may as well have handed out Corn Nuts. It smelled like arse! 🤮

Posted by
15657 posts

One semester in college. I took a food chemistry class. (Think culinary organic chemistry.) It was at 8 AM. The professor, a self-admitted alcoholic, always made it on time and taught the class completely sober. "What's your secret," we asked. He said "it's very simple: for every drink of alcohol, have a full glass of water. The reason you feel bad and hungover is because you're dehydrated." I have followed that advice ever since and
have never been hungover. On a plane, I will actually drink a little bit more water because flying dehydrates you more?

As for food, I order what I want although I find lighter dishes easier on the digestion. I also stay away from anything too spicy.

I normally take daytime flights so when I arrive I can go to my hotel and try to sleep. On the plane, I like to indulge in some coffee. For the last one, I include a shot of Baileys to counteract the caffeine. At least that's what I tell myself.

Posted by
2488 posts

I place my tote or backpack on top of my tray, place the pillow on top of it, and I sleep with my head lying on the pillow

Oh Jean, you're one of those people I see doing this. I have always wondered how people's backs and neck don't hurt, but they always seem to be in a deep sleep. I even tried it for a minute but I got nauseous LOL

Posted by
531 posts

I never understood how people can sleep on their tray tables like that, but kudos to you for getting 'any' sleep on a plane!

In the past I thought that having a drink would help me sleep, but never seems to. After having dinner at the airport, I will board my flight and take my vitamins and sleeping pill soon afterwards. From there, I don't plan to eat until breakfast the next morning in Europe.

On that note, has anyone else flown KLM premium economy? It's fairly new. Wondering how the food is, especially breakfast.

Posted by
454 posts

Jill, I am cracking up about your description of the Fritos! I have young kids and they love airplane snacks, especially Biscoff cookies and apple juice. It’s still a novelty for them!

Posted by
2221 posts

I too sleep with my head on my pillow on the seatback tray. I am short though, so fit;)

My husband does not drink at all, and I rarely do. On long haul flights I rarely will have any alcohol usually just water or 7up.

I sometimes social order my meal, otherwise just take what is served an I may or may not eat it. I prefer when my flights work so that I can eat at the airport before we board and I have more options there. Something that won't upset my stomach and won't make me feel too uncomfortable for sitting for a while.

I am laughing at the grape story. I took those on a long hike on our most recent trip. The first part was steep, about 1250 feet in an hour, and at the top my husband was munching on a protein bar and I was downing the grapes. Nobody else wanted any of them. But hey, at least they were in a ziplock back and not just loose in my pack;)

Posted by
7710 posts

For years I used to pre-order a special meal, such as Indian Vegetarian, or Vegetarian.
Those meals used to be really good

Same with my wife, she noticed the same thing. She is vegetarian, but eats fish and dairy, and in ordering meals wound up getting something terribly bland. I believe while, if you go into order, they have maybe a dozen choices, the airlines boil that down to a few special meals. So pick vegetarian, you likely will get a vegan, gluten-free, lactose free, lowest common denominator meal.

She just started taking what is offered, since they usually have a meat and a non-meat option. Though on our last trip. she did special order a meal, and she really enjoyed it.

Myself, about half the time I decline about half of what is offered to eat, enjoy a glass of wine or a gin and tonic. I would rather hold off and enjoy a nice snack when I arrive.

Posted by
2488 posts

Now I love a good bag of Fritos (salty and delish!), but it is one of the stinkiest things you could eat on a plane.

I'm sure I remember someone on here saying they spotted someone eating ribs on a flight. 😲

Posted by
14241 posts

Jill, I’m in the middle of an experiment of one so no conclusion yet but am using the Timeshifter app to avoid jet lag. I can’t remember if you’ve posted on the recent discussions on this app.

The information on the app says that the major driver of adjusting your circadian rhythm is manipulating sunlight so you are getting it at the right time. While your food choices might make you feel better physically it may not impact jet lag.

I had terrible jet lag last spring so felt I had to do something this trip as this one is a short time frame for me. Timeshifter gives you a free Round Trip before you have to pay. I’ll say that the 1st half (Spokane->Seattle->Amsterdam->Aberdeen) went really well and I did not experience any issues. I fly home next week so will see how the reverse works.

I just wanted to throw that out there in case you want to try it.

BTW, on the way over I did go for Delta One. I ate the appetizer round (nuts then soup, roll) and part of my entree. That was already later than my app was telling me to sleep so I put on a mask and actually got some sleep. The app tells you when to drink caffeine as well so I’d bought a Coke in the Seattle airport so I’d have caffeine when I needed it. Skipped the breakfast because neither was attractive to me.

Posted by
1466 posts

The Timeshifter app does sound interesting and i will check it out --- I've been DIY timeshifting for years because I used to have awful jetlag, not just tired but very sick to my stomach and woozy. Now, no symptoms. The key for me was to make sure my meals matched my sleep times --- it just didn't work to go to bed earlier and earlier but eat meals at normal or semi-normal times. By the day we leave for Italy, I'm eating dinner at noon and going to bed at 3:00pm ---- not all the way onto Italy time, but good enough!

Posted by
531 posts

I'm excited to use the Timeshifter app here in about 3 weeks. A couple of the items on the app were funny to me because it tells me to go to sleep, have caffeine for 1 hour, then immediately take a nap. There's another instance where it's telling me to avoid light for 2 hours while I'm connecting flights. 🤷‍♀️

Posted by
5685 posts

Some years ago, I realized that sitting in an airport restaurant was generally far more relaxing than sitting at the airport gate. Before a transatlantic flight, I now have a meal in one of the airport restaurants. If I have a morning flight, I have breakfast and coffee. If it is an evening flight, I have dinner and a glass of wine. It kills some time and the meal is generally better than what will be served in economy. I skip the plane meal (although I admit that when United hands out the ice cream for dessert, I take that).

Posted by
531 posts

@Laura, totally agree with you on airport restaurants...or a lounge if you qualify/want to pay for it. Sitting at the gate gets old real quick.

Posted by
15673 posts

When I was young (sigh) - even in my 40s, I could sleep on a plane easily and eat and drink what I wanted. Now, I too eliminate cafffeine for at least 12 hours pre-flight and dare not touch alcohol on board. I drink tons of water. And I wear compression socks - keeps the circulation going in my legs and my feet never swell up.

I have found that since I have trouble sleeping on a plane, I prefer daytime flights.

Sorry, no interesting stories.

Posted by
2630 posts

I have a glass of wine on the first pass of the beverage cart, and another glass with my meal--helps me sleep a bit. Otherwise I stick to water, bring my own bottle aboard. I only eat the things I like from the meals--all the protein and veggies, avoid the bread. For in-between snacks I have some chocolate and unsalted nuts in my bag.

I tend to avoid what passes for breakfast prior to arrival--rarely does it actually seem appetizing, and the one thing I will absolutely not eat is the cut up fruit that comes with it...after a long flight it looks great but twice I have gotten sick from it...no one moves faster than the seatmates of someone in the window seat saying let me out, I'm going to be sick!

Posted by
531 posts

LMAO @ "what passes for breakfast." 😄

I'm with you on that one. On my flight to Paris last fall, I flew American Air premium economy, and was really pleased with the dinner the night before, but the breakfast the next morning was just carbs/sugar. It was so unappetizing. I need my savory protein in the morning to keep me going!

Posted by
14241 posts

Jill, I’m thinking of you this morning as I start my departure timeshift and am lying in bed in Shetland with the curtains mostly closed on a rainy morning wearing sunglasses because I want to check the forum, lolol!! Now to figure out how to safely take a shower in the mostly dark!! When I head out for the day I’m not supposed to get sunlight until 1P local time so I’ll use sunglasses and a hat until then. In the rain, lolol!!! 🙄😂

Posted by
531 posts

Pam, that is hilarious! Let me know how it works out! 😆 Most people who have talked about Timeshifter have said that they didn't follow it 100% but it was still helpful. I'm guessing it's because of situations like this!

And if any of us see someone in the airport wearing sunglasses (and it's not especially sunny or bright), this may be why! 😋

Posted by
104 posts

21 years ago on a flight from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk a group of drunk soldiers boarded the flight with a couple of fresh pineapples... and a machete to cut them. I was beyond freaked out!!

Last year on a flight from Rome to Palermo a guy boarded with a full bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and shoved it in the overhead bin.

People + flying + food = Weird

Posted by
531 posts

OMG on both! Truth be told, the smell from the KFC bucket would be torturous. I know it's not healthy or gourmet, but if you're hungry, it smells delicious! 🍗

My first time to Europe as an adult, I splurged on Virgin Atlantic first/upper class. Anyone who's been on Virgin Atlantic knows there is a "bar" of sorts behind first class. Technically you're not supposed to serve yourself but many people do.

Hours after dinner, most of us were trying to sleep, but there were two guys who were loudly partying/drinking themselves silly in that bar area. The next morning, a couple of flight attendants were running to their aid with oxygen tanks. Not sure what the specific issue was, but other passengers had to take a different route around the seats to deplane.

I'm hoping the offenders learned their lesson!

Posted by
318 posts

I practice intermittent fasting at home and find that fasting while traveling helps me manage my jet lag. Water only while onboard. Then a fast breaking lunch in my arrival city (or typically a dinner when coming home) helps my body rest to the new schedule.

Posted by
2581 posts

This thread has me thinking about sandwiches -- the Boudin sourdough bread shop in SFO used to have a lunch sack special of a turkey avocado etc on fresh-baked sourdough with a big soft cookie and a bag of chips, - it would become my personal item for boarding, and I would happily get through half of it before we taxied out to the runway, and the other half to tide me over between the meal service onboard.

A close competitor was in one of those connecting airports in the midwest where there was a parallel local sandwich spot that had an outlet in a far corner of the terminal with a thanksgiving dinner on a roll -- turkey with gravy and stuffing and cranberry sauce served with a pumpkiny dessert wedge. Just grab extra napkins.

with holidays in mind, I would say that eggnog would best be avoided on a long flight.

Posted by
531 posts

Agree on the eggnog, but boy are those holiday turkey sandwiches yummy! I used to get them at a deli across the street from one of my previous jobs. I don't even like turkey, but I will definitely get one of those!

Posted by
531 posts

Thank you, Nancy! Helpful and totally makes sense!

Posted by
9032 posts

I don't sleep on planes and don't drink alcohol, so just live my normal life in the air like I would on the ground. They bring food, I eat it as am always starving when I fly. Coffee, tea and water, but not a lot as that would mean more trips to the tiny WC. I can drink when I land. Have ordered special meals and sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. Sort of have jet lag, but nothing horrible. Maybe staying up all night is better?
Worst breakfast is Air Canada with a piece of banana bread. Seriously? For starving passengers? Iceland Air has never had free food anyway, so pack a lunch of cheese sandwiches or PBJ, maybe mandarine sections in a tupperware. Just nothing smelly, like tuna or hardboiled eggs.

Posted by
3063 posts

My favorite carrier is Air France, because you get the sparkling wine before dinner, 1-2 glasses of wine during dinner, and a cognac, maybe 2, after dinner. At that point, I can get 2 hours sleep, which is more than enough. I love the wine-cognac.

Posted by
30 posts

Stay Hydrated would be the number one advice. Another thing that you should do is to limit the salt intake. You should be aware of your body so you should eat what works best for you, everyone's digestive system reacts differently to foods.

Posted by
7446 posts

A whole package of delicious Dutch black licorice! Ha!

…and if I had another package for the flights back home, I would probably eat it! LOL!

Posted by
464 posts

I rarely drink on flights. I don't drink much at home, either. Try as I might, I'm usually a little dehydrated and alcohol will give me a headache and I'd rather not try to exit the airport and find my accomodation with a headache. I usually eat whatever they put in front of me, minus the carbs (does anyone ever eat the cold, plastic wrapped bread roll that's on every lunch and dinner tray?) Breakfasts are usually carb fests so I bring my own snacks - babybel cheese, nuts, beef jerky, dark chocolate.

I haven't flown SW since 2019 but my memory of that last flight with them is vivid because the family across the aisle from me all got Subway sandwiches to eat on the flight, and boy, did they stink. I think they were all meat filled with lots of oil and vinegar. And it was like 9:30 AM. 🤢

My son also spent a memorable cross-country flight on Alaska Air where his seatmate ate several of those 'tuna salad on the go' packs. 🤢🤢

I can't sleep on a plane, and I used to be really conscientious about avoiding caffeine, but when I travel I'm all off schedule and don't worry about it. I'm not going to sleep on a plane anyway, no matter how little caffeine I've had.

I flew Polaris class for the first time a few weeks ago, from Lisbon to Newark. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. The meal was fine? A step above economy class, but nothing outstanding. The ice cream sundae cart was fine? I see people raving about it on other forums all the time. I could go get a similar ice cream sundae at Dairy Queen if I wanted. The extra space was sure nice, but the food was nothing special. I appreciated the cup of warm salted nuts I had before takeoff more than anything, I think.

Posted by
2581 posts

Quick note here just to chime in that kayla p has added a new favorite phrase to my vocabulary:

Carb Fest

I can't wait to start using that to describe my typical breadbasket/pastry selections breakfasts when on-the-go.

I already have been labeled by other friends for the generous slathering of quality butter on said breads and the extra gravy and sauces that I usually request for my biscuits and gnocchi --

Lipid Lover.

So from here on out this Lipid Lover is always on the lookout for a Carb Fest.

Even if I have to 'settle' for a Dairy Queen to get it.

/s

Posted by
9853 posts

Well I am literally on the RER B heading back into Paris from CDG after heading home for a week.

On the way to the States, I broke my cardinal rule - I accepted the in-meal flight. But then there was such a tomato-ey saucy mess in just trying to pull the foil up from the main dish that I just gave up and left it further untouched.

Last night in between my Tulsa and Atlanta flights, I sat in an empty gate and ate two slices of room temperature pizza that I had left over from a lunch with my parents a few days prior. Even room temperature Hideaway pizza is better than the airplane meal !!

I did eat the breakfast thingy this morning..but only the five grapes from the fruit plate because it was mainly three big hunks of melon, yuck

Posted by
7710 posts

Alcohol/No Alcohol, Dinks Lots of water/Drink little, Eat/Don't eat, Sleep/Don't Sleep, I probably have done them all, except some type of sleep supplement.

I will always have a Gin and Tonic during the flight, maybe a wine with dinner. When I travel to Europe, I do travel for the beer, but I do not do beer on flights, or soda for that matter. I selective eat what they provide, for the main meal, I might eat the entree and a few of the other items. The "wake up" or breakfast snack they offer, I skip, just a cup of coffee. I want to arrive and have something good to eat at the normal local eating time, usually lunch, maybe a late mid-morning coffee and light bite. I find all the stuff they put in front of you on a flight tends to bloat me, gas at altitude is enough of a problem, no need to aggravate it.

I hydrate, but not so much I am up to use the airplane bathroom a half dozen times, I drink when I am thirsty. but do not force myself to drink, I think many over-hydrate, thinking that they really can't do so.

I also am one of those people that sleeps little. I do relax, shut my eyes, stop any input like movies or audio, but sleep? Nope, except for short 10 minute nods. Once arrived, I am ready to go, fueled by adrenaline, ready to be active, and looking forward to a deep sleep that night.

Posted by
489 posts

I am a somewhat uneasy flyer. Take offs are the worst but occasionally during the flight I have what my daughter refers to as my ‘silver tube problem’. As in: ‘We are hurtling through the sky over the ocean in a silver tube! This is crazy!’ I know, I know, totally irrational and I’m much safer doing that than driving anywhere in my city. And I happily book my flights to get on that silver tube to go somewhere fun. But still…..

So as a partial consequence I eat and drink whatever they’ll bring me on flights, watch downloaded movies, read downloaded books etc etc for distraction. And I am never, never able to sleep more than 10-20 minutes.

Posted by
2 posts

When I fly on airplanes I don't feel like eating at all. Whether it's excitement or nerves, I don't know. But as soon as the plane takes off, I go to bed and sleep the whole flight, that's how it is.

Posted by
18725 posts

I used to fly the same Turkish Air flight out of IAH so often that the gate crew and flight crew knew me. Prior to departure, the flight crew on one occasion slipped me 4 bottles of wine. They knew what I would ask for as soon as we were in the air. And they knew after I would sleep to IST, and that was Economy.