In-flight snacking tips

Did you know that most airlines allow you to take snacks on board (within reason)? Sure, many of them do serve food but sometimes it’s not substantial, may not fit your eating requirements, or you’re at the end of the ‘chicken or beef’ queue and don’t get what you’d prefer. On some occasions, if the flight is very rough, cabin crew may not even be able to serve food, or perhaps you’re on a low-cost carrier which requires you to purchase anything you eat and drink (at vastly inflated prices).

If you’re a hungry person, diabetic, or are travelling with children, we suggest packing some extra goodies to eat. Don’t be shy – if anyone looks at you quizzically, be assured that it’s probably because they are wishing they had also packed snacks.

Good food choices:

  • Low in salt and sugar – these ingredients can cause bloating due to water retention.
  • Easy to digest – avoid the dreaded flatulence that many struggle with on flights. Dried fruit and broccoli may, therefore, not be the best idea.
  • Have good flavour – as research has shown that your sense of taste actually decreases when you’re on a plane.
  • Are wrapped or properly sealed in original packaging, or a zip-seal or plastic container. Pack an extra zip-seal bag or two just in case. Remember a bin bag of some kind for apple cores, naartjie peels, or packaging – don’t be that person who just leaves it all loose in the seat-back pouch.
  • Do not involve much handling. Remember that you may not be able to clean your hands thoroughly before eating and your hands can get fairly dirty when travelling.

Some great ideas: Rice crackers, mini rice cakes, biltong/jerky, dark chocolate, boiled or jelly sweets, dried fruit (unless it tends to bloat you), snack/cereal bars, nougat, cracker breads, pretzels, muffins, cookies, trail mix, lollipops, and popcorn (crisps tend to get crushed), cheese wedges, protein bars… Basically: most things that can go into a school lunchbox will work.

You can get fancy and pack yourself a ‘cheese board’ with crackers, cheese, olives, and charcuterie. Or go healthy with fruit like apples, bananas, grapes, or naartjies.*

A sandwich or take-away meal (e.g. a burger) is also usually acceptable but, again, make sure before you do it as different airlines have different rules.

TIP! Take a couple of extra zip-seal bags or a lightweight plastic container along in case you don’t finish your snack on the plane. Hang onto it so that you will have somewhere to pack a snack for your return flight.

Not-so-good food choices: 

  • Anything messy, very noisy or smelly. This is inconsiderate to fellow passengers and flight crew. That means leaving your super-crunchy crisps, stinky egg sandwiches, and whiffy fish-and-chips at home.
  • Peanuts or anything containing peanuts. People that are highly sensitive to these could potentially get an anaphylactic reaction just from inhaling the particles. This is why many airlines no longer serve peanuts or tree nuts.
  • Alcohol. You may bring sealed bottles purchased at air-side duty-free onto the plane. However, it is against regulations to crack this open during the flight – only alcohol served to you in flight by cabin crew is permitted. Remember that people become intoxicated quicker at higher altitudes and, should you become highly intoxicated and behave badly, you may find yourself arrested when you reach your destination.
  • Yoghurt. Although not a total no-no, yoghurt in a thin plastic container has a tendency to burst at high altitudes. It is best to decant it into a tightly-sealed container but do not fill it up all the way – leave room for it to expand.

*Important caveats

Fresh produce
Be aware that most countries have restrictions on bringing fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, or dairy, honey, biltong, etc. into the country. This is to protect their agricultural industries from potentially destructive pests and infections. If you take along fruit to eat on the plane but don’t get around to eating it, you must leave it behind on the plane; at best, it will get thrown away in the airport – at worst, you could find yourself paying a hefty fine.

Processed, packaged foods like chocolate, cheese wedges, or a dried-fruit bar are usually fine but always check on the airline and destination country’s individual rules as some are stricter than others.

Cutlery

Knives and other sharp implements are not permitted in carry-on luggage and will be confiscated at security. If food will need to be cut into bite-sized pieces, do so beforehand.

Forks, spoons, and sporks are usually fine to bring on board but, as with anything else, always double check before flying.

Liquids
Remember to stick to the ‘3-1-1 Rule’ for packing liquids. This includes anything from water to pastes, purees, puddings, gels, yoghurts, etcetera (so bringing a bow of trifle isn’t going to work).

3-1-1

3 = 3 ounces (aka 100 millilitres)
1 = One plastic bag with a maximum capacity of 1 litre
1 = One bag per passenger

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