Tips for getting more to drink or eat on airlines

First, like many of you I chafe a bit when I ask for a soft drink on an airplane and get about 50 ml of Diet Coke in a cup jammed to the top with ice. Two good gulps and it’s gone!

A while back, I asked a flight attendant friend if it was impolite to ask for a whole can of Coke (or whatever you drink). Her answer: “It’s perfectly fine! But be sure to ask for a glass with ice, too.” (If you don’t do that, you might get a warmish can by itself.) Ever since then, I’ve always asked for an entire can of the beverage of my choice, and the flight attendants are glad to provide it. I’ve seen my seatmates look on jealously as I pour what seems to be the equivalent of about 3-4 drinks that they got.

As my father said, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Now here’s something I always wondered: Can you get an extra meal on a plane when you’ve already consumed one? I’m sometimes hungry after an airline meal, though I never had the guts to ask for another. (This desire is very rare given how bad airline food is.) Nevertheless, Quora deals with this question in a post called “Can you ask for another airplane meal after you’ve finished the first one?

The answer is a qualified “yes”, involving whether the plane is full, how polite you are, and what kind of flight it is.  For most people this would take more courage than asking for a whole can of drink, but I’d do it nonetheless if I were hungry on a long-haul flight and the food was good.

Here’s one of the answers to the query on Quora:

But if you don’t have the moxie to ask for more food, just remember this: unless you’re happy with 3 ounces of beverage on a plane, just ask politely, “Can I have a can of X with a cup of ice?”  You will get it. And tell them that Jerry sent you.

By the way, I had the worst airplane meal of my life on a SpiceJet flight (my hosts were very kind and bought the food option for my private airline bookings within India). What did I have? Well, the fruit juice was okay, but the only “meal” for me was a COLE SLAW SANDWICH. Yep, that’s the way it was labeled and that’s what it was: rabbit food on sliced white bread. Jebus!

I mean, I know many Indians are vegetarians, and I love their vegetarian food, but this is some barbaric perversion from British days. Why couldn’t they give me a samosa?

32 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Normally airline food is not something that makes me think of more, however, it has sometimes been good. Particularly on International flights when in business class or above and always in domestic first class. On those terrible long flights sitting in coach or economy as some call it, eating another meal might just be something to do to make time go by. The gutsy thing years ago for us was asking for an upgrade on those flights from the far east to Hawaii on delta or Pan Am. I’m pretty sure today they would just laugh at you.

    • BJ
      Posted January 1, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      “Particularly on International flights when in business class or above and always in domestic first class.”

      This is the key. I don’t think I’ve seen coach receive meals on domestic flights in at least ten years, and even though I fly first class, I usually don’t get a meal either, unless the flight takes off somewhere between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM (give or take) and is four or more hours. The meals on domestic flights are occasionally pretty tasty, occasionally inedible, but usually just mediocre. International flights often have amazing food, but if you’re in business or first class, many airlines even offer menus to match one’s metaphorical very fancy pants.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 1, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        I can recall traveling business class on Pan AM and I guess we got the same menu as first class. Usually three selections that included salad and desert along with some pretty good wine. Also recall a great first class meal on a domestic flight from Dallas to New York, just enough time to eat and get off the plane. I also remember lots of those flights back in coach, although trying to forget.

        • BJ
          Posted January 1, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          Of course, back when Pan Am still existed, flying was a very different experience.

  2. JJ
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    30,000 ft in the air, going to another continent in the space of a few hours, being able to afford it (as well as all the many, many other flights), being treated by exceptionally patient folk who’ve got what must be a dreadful job (once over the initial idea of it being glamourous), being treated to nutritious food that half the world’s population would be grateful for …
    God, who’d want to work in customer service?

  3. John Thorne
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    The worst airline meal I ever saw was years ago on Sinai Air. It was nothing more than cheese sandwiches, but the bread was literally green with mold. Everyone stared in shock at the one guy on the plane who ate his up and apparently enjoyed it.

    On the other hand. I recently flew Turkish Air from Houston to Addis Ababa, and the food was excellent. Of course, food in Turkey is almost always good.

    • gscott
      Posted January 1, 2018 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      My worst meal wasn’t quite as bad as yours: the ‘breakfast’ on MIAT Mongolian Airlines was a lump of disgusting-looking mystery meat, probably some kind of mutton (which seemed to be the national dish), but possibly yak.

  4. Ken Phelps
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    “Can you get an extra meal on a plane…”

    Thus answering the question: What good is half an eye?

  5. Posted January 1, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    On the theme of unappetising airline food, on a British Airways overnight flight from Seattle to Heathrow some years ago, my wife and I were served a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich as breakfast as we approached Heathrow. Now, I like cheese and Branston pickle, especially if the cheese is a good strong cheddar, but it is NOT breakfast food. We both opted to remain hungry until we landed. Since that regrettable gastronomic experience, we have made a habit of buying apple fritters at the food court in SeaTac’s south terminal to take on the plane for breakfast.

  6. Posted January 1, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I love cole slaw, and often order is as a side dish.
    But this means that it was a side dish sandwich.

  7. harrync
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Three weeks ago I flew American. As far as I could tell, whenever anyone asked for a canned drink, the flight attendant asked “Just a glass or a full can?”

  8. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    What surprises me is that airlines still bother with complimentary food and drink service outside of first class. Buyers of long-haul bus tickets don’t expect a meal to be included in the price; if you’re hungry, you bring your own food. Why should air travel be any different?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Just so long as one stays inside the 100ml liquid limit [that’s the UK – I dunno about elsewhere] per transparent container.

      I think airlines should offer complimentary soft drinks given that they typically set humidity at a crippling 12%
      to save weight. I’m amazed such a low % is permitted. Criminal – given this is drier than nearly all deserts.

      RELATIVE HUMIDITY FIGURES [More Humid at night where two readings given]

      UK: 70% to 90%
      San Pedro de Atacama: 77%
      Las Vegas: 20% to 40%
      Airplanes: 12%
      Mojave Desert: 10% to 50%

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        In the US, you can bring empty containers of any size through security and fill them from water fountains on the secure side. Or purchase food and beverages from airport concessionaires and carry them aboard. I do this frequently myself rather than rely on unpredictable airline food.

        The point about humidity is a fair one. If they’re going to suck moisture out of you, they ought to offer you the opportunity to put some of it back.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Also, to clarify one point, the reason airplane air is so dry is because the altitude they fly at basically is a desert, and it’s not cost-effective to equip aircraft with humidifiers and water tanks to compensate.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          I know that, but it comes down to saving weight: more complex air conditioning, more electrical power, more fuel to carry the required water etc.

          We passengers shouldn’t have to put up with such dry air just because the airlines deem 12% to be acceptable. Dry, itchy eyes & inflamed nasal mucous membranes – plus some increased risk of the air transmission of bugs [despite airline claims to the contrary]. I know that airplanes are turned around very rapidly & cleaning is perfunctory – there’s plenty of places for skin flakes & microbes to reside & increased humidity keeps the nasties wetted down rather than circulating in the air.

          You can now reply with a discussion of air changes per hour etc 🙂

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted January 1, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think it’s just about weight; if that were the case, they’d be charging for baggage by the kilogram.

            From what I understand, the humidifiers themselves can serve as reservoirs of pathogens. Given the quick turnaround times and perfunctory cleanings you cite, it’s not obvious to me that the more complex systems can be kept germ-free. The cure could turn out to be worse than the disease.

            But I hasten to add that I’m not an expert on this and the above is just what I’ve learned from a few minutes of Googling.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted January 1, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

              Gregory – airlines would add surcharges for obese or tall passengers & credit card readers to the toilet compartments if they thought they could get away with it!

              It is all about WEIGHT in the end. We are talking about > 300kg of water building up in a 747 [in the air & condensate] if humidifiers allowed RH to reach 50% throughout all compartments.

              Flight deck & flight deck rest areas are humidified to the normal range to keep crew fresh & alert, but most passengers are not extended this courtesy.

              Airlines argue that to humidify the entire plane at say 50% RH would result in condensation in the inner skin, insulation & electronics/wiring. But this is old news from the airlines who see passengers as freight. A company called CTT for some years have had a system available to all airlines that can zone the humidity & in fact Lufthansa now have it for their first class passengers: “[The humidifier] gives a totally different experience, passengers arrive in a much better shape after a long-haul flight” [Lufthansa chairman & CEO Carsten Spohr]. In their advertising they also say that 1st class can now taste their food – which is a really interesting observation! It seems that Lufthansa believe that only first class freight deserve full use of their nostrils.

              The day will come when the plebs will be ordered to evacuate their bowels before boarding & perhaps be fitted with nappies to deal with the occasional ill disciplined biological function. 🙂

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 2, 2018 at 2:39 am | Permalink

              “From what I understand, the humidifiers themselves can serve as reservoirs of pathogens.”

              Legionnaires Disease?

              Much more weight-efficient, I would think, to carry enough drinking water and let the self-loading cargo humidify itself.

              cr

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted January 2, 2018 at 3:09 am | Permalink

                The self-loading cargo doesn’t get the opportunity to humidify itself – the machines whip it nearly all away.

                The type of humidifiers used in 1st class compartments of airplanes are designed not to put aerosols into the air in a way that will put Legionnaires’ disease [or say Pontiac fever] into the human respiratory system. You will get Legionnaires’ while taking a hotel or airport shower, but NOT from airplane systems. The big risk on airplanes is the usual range of contact infections off doors & rails, people coughing & poorly boiled water for hot drinks [E. coli heaven] – water for hot drinks can be sourced from sub-optimal local running water supplies.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted January 2, 2018 at 3:22 am | Permalink

                If by “humidify itself” you mean “hydrate by drinking water brought on board” [or bought on board] – that approach doesn’t reproduce the ideal: breathable moist air at around 40%-50% RH – you leave the plane after 12 hours far less ‘frazzled’ if the air is right.

  9. Kenneth Thompson
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Cole slaw would never have been served in British days. It is a perversion that we British have had foisted on us from the Netherlands via the USA.

    A British sandwich would contain meat or cheese. Vegetarian sandwiches are an anathema.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Cheese sandwiches are vegetarian. And the British invented cucumber sandwiches, did they not?

      • Posted January 2, 2018 at 6:02 am | Permalink

        Not to mention the crisp butty! That’s a breakfast bun with potato chips to those of you from North America.

  10. Frank Bath
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I protest, no British Empire plane would have served coleslaw, if they had ever heard of it, it’s German.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Nah, it’s Dutch as Kenneth #9 says

      Coleslaw is mostly unfermented whereas German sauerkraut will get you airborne without the need of an airplane! 🙂

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        So will the Kimchee…

  11. yazikus
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    There is one short flight I’ve taken (an hour or so) where they give you a complimentary glass of wine or beer. The amusing thing is, they give you 8oz of wine or of beer. If you choose the wine, drink fast, and don’t stumble off of the plane!

    When I was young, we traveled a lot by air, and there was this window of time where the staff would dote on us kids. They’d bump us up to first class, bring us chocolates and champagne glasses of orange juice, let us lie down on whole rows of seats. My favorite food then was the box lunch you’d get flying from Hong Kong to Delhi. It had the largest grapes I’d ever seen, a bowl of rice, some sort of meaty sauce, crackers and cheese.

  12. Hempenstein
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I kinda like Tonic, gin or not, and always ask for a can of plain tonic, which is always gladly provided. I figure they know nobody else will ask for any, so they may as well.

    Coleslaw sandwich – cheer up! It couldda been a mayo sandwich! (Recipe to be found in the White Trash Cookbook).

    And I don’t know about now, but at least a decade or two ago on Lufthansa they always served Baltic Herring for lunch. I always wound up with about three servings since nobody sitting around me ever wanted theirs. (And I know that if PCC[E] was beside me, I’d have his.)

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    I don’t care about airline food, but I have a thing about getting enough water to drink, particularly since the security-theater goons are likely to take your water off you at the airport and you sometimes can’t buy more (even at rip-off prices) after screening.

    Best score was an overnight Sydney-Abu Dhabi flight on Etihad when I was so dry I found the galley in the middle of the night and the stewardess gave me a full litre bottle (“but please don’t tell anybody”) – that bottle (with refills) saw me all round Europe and back (via Charles de Gaulle) to Abu Dhabi where security finally took it off me.

    Next best was coming back through Dubai to Auckland, I emptied my bottle at Dubai (having been told I could refill it after Security) but the place was under construction, no water fountains! So I took it on the plane empty and, by dint of shamelessy grabbing the Emirates stewardess each time one went past and asking for water and pouring the little cup into my bottle, by the time the plane settled down for the night I had a full bottle of water to last me the long night hours.

    On previous flights I always had trouble safely storing any water I scored – the spare bottle is the obvious answer.

    So I think the best bet is to take two bottles, one full, one empty, then whatever the bizarre manifestations of security theater and airport facilities, you’re giving yourself the best chance of not dying of dehydration.

    cr

  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    Re the extra meals, it’s my understanding that (on international flights at least) any unused airline meals just go straight down the garbage at the destination – quarantine regulations – so it costs the staff and airline nothing to dish out any spare to the pax.

    cr

  15. Hempenstein
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    One more thing about eating on planes – it’s damn difficult to eat with the little kiddie utensils they give you.

    Solution: carry chopsticks! They’re not even detected at security and take up virtually zero space.


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