Take your plane dining to new heights.

In Flight Meal
Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

It happens like clockwork: Once you’ve catapulted 30,000 feet in the air and reached a safe cruising altitude, the real fun of your flight truly begins. You log into your flight’s internet, swipe through the movie offerings, and even get up to go to the bathroom. Before you know it, there it is: the snack cart, packed with food and beverage and wheeling its way right to you. If you purchased bites beforehand or scarfed down something at your airport lounge, you might think of the snack cart as an appetizing afterthought. But in reality? With some pro-approved pointers, the humble snack cart can be bursting with culinary potential—you just need to know what to order. (And, of course, not to order.) 

Here, two flight attendants whet our appetites by sharing their expert advice for navigating the snack cart. We hope you came hungry!

Airplane Cabin

Suhyeon Choi/Unsplash

1. Elevate with Accoutrements

Pretzels, cookies, nuts—everyone knows the snack cart basics, right? Well, with a few simple tweaks, you can turn your go-to choices into something a bit more gourmet. While Heath M.* says the fruit bars are a “good and healthy choice,” he does give you full permission to indulge your sweet tooth. “Biscoff cookies are a treat from time to time,” he says. “Squeeze some lemon or lime on top of the Biscoff cookie for a key-lime pie treat!”

2. Craft Your Cocktails

Your in-flight drink options might feel a tad constricting, but Heath encourages you to get a little creative with your sips. “Why settle for Baileys Irish Cream on the rocks when you can have a white Russian?” he asks. “Ask your flight attendant for a Baileys, a vodka, and a splash of coffee mixed over ice! Want a screwdriver? Add a splash of cranberry to that!” If you want to skip the booze on your flight—after all, the altitude can change your reaction to alcohol—he recommends cutting a sugary juice with some soda water. (Bonus points: Your less-than-basic order might spark some fun conversation with your flight attendant.)


Getty Images

3. Stay Away from Stainable Sips 

That said, there’s one beverage Heath says you should never order: Tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix. “First of all, it stinks,” he says. “Second, it’s super messy if spilled. You simply cannot recover from a cup of tomato being spilled on your clothes!” He has a point: Since you don’t want to sit on a long-haul flight covered in stained clothing, you might want to stick with clear or easy-to-clean beverages.

4. BYOB: Bring Your Own Bottle

It doesn’t matter where you’re going or how long your flight is: A plane’s low humidity and high altitude can leave you feeling parched. That’s exactly why flight attendant Grace Rueda recommends bringing an empty water bottle through TSA and filling it in the terminal. “We get very dehydrated in flight,” she explains. “If I have enough water for the cabin, I’ll happily fill your water bottle after we’ve finished service.” Not only will you have enough water to quench your thirst, but you can also reduce your waste by ditching the disposable plastic cups.

Owala Water Bottle

Courtesy of Amazon

Owala FreeSip Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Straw, $33

5. Keep Your Entrée Simple 

Depending on your flight’s route, you might receive a complimentary warm meal. Though most airlines offer a meat and vegetarian option, the exact options are always changing. When in doubt, these flight attendants say you can’t go wrong with the classics. “Usually simpler is better,” Heath says. “When it sounds super fancy, it’s usually not as good.” When it comes to flavor, Rueda says pasta is typically a safe bet. 

6. Pre-Order When You Can

When it comes to scoring a scrumptious snack on your next flight, the early bird literally gets the worm. While frequent fliers for some airlines get one free item, Heath notes that he often runs out of fresh food before he reaches premium economy or the exit row. “When you pre-order, you reserve that item no matter where you’re seated,” Heath says. “I won’t have much sympathy when you pout about how you’re vegetarian and can only eat the cheese plate when you didn’t have the time to pre-order.” As for the most in-demand item? “The cheese plate goes quickly,” he says.

Getty Images

7. Keep It Kind

If you really want to make the most out of your in-flight snacks, a little bit of kindness can go a long way. “I will move heaven and earth if I sense genuine kindness from a passenger,” Rueda adds. “Order kindly: Please and thank you go a long way. Trust me, you want us on your team.” Pay it forward by smiling at your flight attendants, saying hello, or practicing basic etiquette. (In fact, Heath says you can butter your flight attendants up by giving them a treat or a low-cost gift.) Who knows? Maybe you’ll get an extra helping of “key lime pie” or a second screwdriver!

*A pseudonym has been used.

We only recommend things we love. If you buy something through our site, we might earn a commission.