Why is airport food so bad?

As of last November, I commute by air one day a week. I’d like to say that this was via private jet, or helicopter, but alas, it’s not. I know there are worse ways to travel (I usually fall sleep on the flight home, and you can’t do that when you’re driving), but it’s not at all glamorous.

Cathay Pacific Children's Meal
What Cathay Pacific think kids will like to eat: soggy ‘chicken’ nuggets, peas and corn. 

This week, thanks to the freak fog that smothered Wellington Airport, it was downright depressing. There’s nothing worse than being 45 minutes into a 55-minute flight and having the pilot tell you that you’re going to have to return to where you came from. Actually, there is – it’s getting back to the point of origin, discovering that you are one of about thousands who has to book a new flight for the next day and then discovering that there is not a single hotel bed to be had in the entire city. But I digress.

What has really struck me in the last few months of regular flying – and especially in the last 24 hours – is the absolute revolting-ness of airport – and airline – food. I used to think that things would be better if only I had access to an airport lounge, but I’ve since realised the food there is not. At Auckland Airport’s domestic terminal there are about seven options. The best of the lot is a sushi place, followed closely by a juice bar and a so-called salad outfit, but for the most part the food is distinctly average.

Wellington is not much better. In fact, it’s probably worse. Yes, it has two Mojo coffee outlets (Mojo is like the Starbucks of Wellington) but everything else falls somewhere on the spectrum between stodge (doorstopper muffins, pies, wraps) and slop (lurid ‘curries’).  

Chicken Lasagne At Air New Zealand Koru Club
Koru Club chicken lasagne – so bad it’s good

I used to think that things would be better if only I had access to an airport lounge, but I’ve since realised the food there is not any better. It’s institutional, boarding school-style stuff – which perhaps suits the mostly male, middle-aged, clientele – though I must admit I harbour a secret, disgusting, love for the chicken lasagne served at the Auckland Koru Lounge most Tuesday nights. I feel terrible after eating it though – do you think they design this food to make you even more uncomfortable at altitude, or am I just greedy?

None of this ticket-hall or air-side food is as bad as the stuff you get onboard long-haul flights – the Cathay Pacific children’s meal pictured above was the lowpoint of our holiday last year (their other meals are ok, but they need to seriously overhaul the kids’ food), but it’s still not good. I know airports have a captive audience and – obviously – there is a large sector of the travelling public who really like McDonalds, Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. But do the rest of us have a voice? And how can we be heard?

Which airline or airport has the best food, do you think? And which has the worst?



  1. Anonymous
    February 20, 2014 / 9:14 am

    When travelling, our children never have kids' meals, we always make sure they are given 'adult' choices, still pretty depressing on most airlines…

    • February 21, 2014 / 6:54 am

      Yes, we learned pretty quickly that as bad as the 'adult' meal was, the kids' ones were invariably much, much worse!

  2. Anonymous
    February 20, 2014 / 8:42 pm

    Sydney airport Qantas first class lounge no contest. Beautiful Neil Perry menu with meals made to order and a manicure or massage to boot. I've only managed to wangle my way in a couple of times but its fantastic.

    • February 21, 2014 / 6:56 am

      That sounds amazing! I wonder how I can get myself there? The newer Cathay Lounge at Hong Kong airport has a high wow factor – no manicures or massages but they do have a pretty cool noodle bar, with stuff made to order. I didn't want to leave!

  3. March 3, 2014 / 6:08 pm

    Such is the misery of a jet set career. I hope you are packing your own snack now which is what I pretty much do. I've sat in enough provincial NZ airports to learn my lesson. Airline wise I don't think you can beat Air NZ for long haul flights food. Aside from First Class on Lufthansa but that was a one off lucky never to be repeated trip although the memory of a wonderful beef fillet shall linger in the memory. All credit to your wee one if she ate that meal.

    • March 7, 2014 / 8:24 am

      Alas, I am always so disorganised that packing my own snack would only happen in my dreams. This week I left without my wallet (cue anxious taxi ride back home), on previous journeys I have arrived for a day of meetings sans pen, phone charger, lipstick…

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