12 Old-Fashioned Airline Foods We Want Back ASAP — Eat This Not That

In the late 1950s, transatlantic travel from New York to Europe took off and the Golden Age of travel took off. In this era of pre-aircraft deregulation — we’re talking mostly from the 1960s to the mid-1970s — old-fashioned airplane food wasn’t just edible, it was excellent. Think five-star dining, endless cocktails, seven-course meals, white tablecloths and fine china.

Take a look at some of the menu dishes and drinks that have been served according to the TWA Museum, Pan Am Museum and various publications over the years. Who’s ready to take a look at the most amazing old-fashioned food served on planes with a side of civility in the sky? Also, don’t miss 8 old-fashioned ingredients that no one else uses (but should!)

chateaubriand old fashioned airplane food
Courtesy of the TWA Museum

And TWA was famous for carving chateaubriand into a cart in the hallway.

roast alaska

Once upon a time, Cathay Pacific prepared Baked Alaska on the fly. Could you imagine setting something on fire on planes today?

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Shrimp Curry airline food

In the early 1970s, Singapore Airlines flight menus featured regionally-inspired dishes such as shrimp curry and Malaysian salad; even in the economy, the menu offerings were impressive, think crabmeat stuffed mushrooms and fried shrimp.

japanese tea plane

Airlines have also opened separate dining and cocktail lounges on planes, and Japan Airlines once even recreated a Teahouse in the Sky designed to resemble a traditional Japanese inn, according to Travel and Leisurewith hot and cold options of sake and Japanese teas.

TWA chateaubriand sculpture
Mondadori via Getty Images

Pan Am and Maxim’s de Paris – the legendary restaurant near Place de la Concorde – have partnered to offer the restaurant’s French cuisine menu on international flights starting in the 1950s, according to Panam.org. For years, Maxim’s chefs have prepared Pan Am’s Atlantic buffet; meals were quickly frozen and stored in multiple locations. With such a pairing, the airline could well have been called Pan Glam, it certainly gave impetus to a glamorous moment in air travel.

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The Pan Am Maxim menu
Courtesy of the Pan Am Historical Foundation

Named for the lovely French resort town of Vichy, this elegant carrot dish is sweet and slightly caramelized, and was an accompaniment to the Pan Am Maxim menu.

Get the Recipe for Full of Plants.

Boeuf Braise Bogeouise and sides

Here’s a recipe for the classic French dish on Maxim’s menu, by way of another quintessential French culinary star, Julia Child.

Get the soup spoon recipe.

beluga caviar

Caviar in the skies was the seat of money, and symbolized the glamor of the glam travel period; Air France served Beluga caviar on board in the 1950s.

Here, is a collection of caviar recipes to transport you.

cheese plate

Ooh, la la! Even the economy class menu on Pan Am’s Jet Clipper flights was inspired by the best dishes in French cuisine. Like this elevated mixed salad platter with ham, camembert cheese, hard-boiled eggs, tomato and vegetable salad, with a couple of cornichons. Also served were lovely fromage (or cheese) varieties with petite pains (bread).

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Get the recipe from Epicurious.

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restaurant food airline

An economy class menu in the early 1960s included the classic French comfort dish Fricassee of Veal a l’Ancienne and rice pilaf with peas.

Get Martha Stewart’s recipe.

teriyaki beef airline

And a 1970s economy-class menu on Pan Am’s New York/Fairbanks/Tokyo route has put the spotlight on Grilled Beef Teriyaki, Chicken Hasamiyaki and the ever-popular Roast Beef Bourguignon.

Get the Baking Mischief recipe.

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airline cafe

How about a daiquiri or whiskey sour to enjoy on the trip? These fancy cocktails were also a favorite served on Pan Am flights, but sadly not anymore… And in the spirit of travel, international coffees were also often served on Pan Am flights, including Cafe Parisienne with Grand Mariner, Cafe Royal with Cognac, Cafe Mexicano with Kahlua and Italian coffee with amaretto di sal.

The days of luxury air travel are behind us – unless you have a lot of money – but we can still dream that something besides peanuts will be available in the future. Happy flight!


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