Flights and Kosher Meals

One fellow blogger, whom I’ve already mentioned on this blog, wrote a post in August about kosher food on planes. As it’s only about four years since I became observant, I had never really bothered about kosher meals during flights. In addition my most recent flights were short ones to Sweden or Hungary where only drinks were served, or none at all when we flew with Ryanair in September.

Yet in August I knew I would soon fly to Hong Kong where one of my brother lives with his wife and baby girl and I knew that since the trip lasts 12 hours I would be eating a minimum of two kosher meals. So I read Treppenwitz’s post with interest, wondering what sort of food I would be served.

I had booked the flight with Swiss and was supposed to fly from Paris to Zurich and from there to Hong Kong, not that I particularly wanted to lengthen the flying time but this flight was the cheapest. However, when I arrived in Paris to check-in, the Swiss staff explained that, due to overbooking, I had been transferred to Air France. I immediately enquired about the kosher meal and was told that this could not be guaranteed because of the short notice. I was already picturing myself surviving on bread or at best steamed rice provided it was not served with the meat!

Moreover because most air pilots and hostesses were on strike we did not know if the plane would depart or not. The staff told us that the flight was « suspended » but in the meantime passengers were expected to wait in a queue in case they managed to round up enough air flight attendants and a pilot (or two) to allow the plane to take off. This meant that it was impossible for me to rush to the nearest airport store so as to buy some kosher biscuits and/or chips.

Finally twenty minutes before the plane was due to take off, we were told that it would take wing after all and boarding started immediately. Unexpectedly I did get the kosher meal. It still amazes me that, while nobody seemed to know whether the flight would go ahead, somebody remembered this meal and took great pains to bring it to the plane.

I soon became interested in what it contained, all the more so as I was famished by then. Well the meal was wonderful. It consisted of a cold salad (not the most interesting item on the menu), « boeuf mode » (beef with tomatoes, onions, carrots and peas), a cake, a fruit salad and a soy yogurt. There was also a bread roll. Observant flyers will know that the bread is  mezonos, so that we needn’t say the brachah over bread, which we would not be able to do on the plane anyway. The meal was hot, tasty and balanced. I looked at the label to identify the caterer; it was a French one « Servair Kasher », an Airfrance subsidiary. After twelve hours’ flight I was given breakfast. It had been prepared by the same caterer and was once again quite appetizing (a pita filled with scrambled egg and ratatouille), a fruit salad and coffee.

On the way back I flew with Swiss and obviously got the kosher meal I had asked for months before when booking the flight. Unfortunately, it was not so good. There was no cold salad this time. The salmon was hot but the rice and vegetables were cold. The fruit salad was fine and after I had eaten it, I decided to have a closer look at the two other desserts; while wondering why they had put three desserts on one tray. The first one was a chocolate cake with chocolate cream inside. I took a bite and decided to give up straight away as it was too creamy and with very little chocolate flavor. The other one was a chocolate cigar, filled with yet more cream and framed by two apricot halves! I tried but soon gave up that one too. Believe me I am not a fussy eater but those two sweets were just too rich for a flight. Whoever has planned this meal had never been on an international flight or had forgotten about it. Breakfast the next morning was no better: three half-bagels each filled with three different sorts of meat, a fruit salad and coffee. I was hungry so I ate the lot regretting the light and tasty pita I had eaten twelve days before.

For those two meals the caterer was an English company I won’t mention since I only had two of their meals and it would not be fair to assume they are always serving such unsavory food. However, for the sake of Jewish travelers, I do hope they start working on improving what they serve on long flights.


18 thoughts on “Flights and Kosher Meals

  1. Just a tip for future flights: Always pack a few sandwiches and snacks with you. You just never know what the food situation will be and it’s better to be safe then sorry.

  2. My experience with non-ElAl international airline food was actually that the Swiss kosher food was amazing; the Air France, one, on the other hand, was horrible. It came from someplace in England, and confirmed all the negative stereotypes about British cooking 😛 .

    But the absolute best airplane meal i ever had was a special “healthy” quinoa-and-chicken meal on El Al that they had extras of and offered me one.

  3. You were lucky you got 2 good meals out of your flight- it could have been much worse! I agree with Abbi, always pack a few things to eat. You never know when you’ll be delayed or the food will be inedible.

  4. I’ve been oneating Kosher airline food for years. Only the breakfasts are any good. I’ve switched to vegetarian meals for other times. I don’t know if this works for you, but it is worth a try.

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  6. A new reaction to an old post (but, alas, I found out this blog not so long ago)…

    I have been using kosher meals in airlines for a few months and have had mostly good experiences. I used them with Air France, Swissair, Lufthansa and Thai Airways and I guess one or two US airlines. All were acceptable, some of them good (the AirFrance ones), just the Thai one was, well, just eatable.

    I am also thinking of switching to vegetarian, but in many cases (that I could see) the vegetarian option is not really that good.

  7. I recall being on a flight (British Airways – from Israel to Britain, from Britain to America) which I already knew that the kosher meal request hadn’t gone through, due to a problem with my booking agent. And, unusually, I was in business class (ordinarly, I’m in economy, of course). So there I was, sitting in business class, next to the most sumptuous airline meals, and I was not only not eating as sumptuously, but I wasn’t eating at all!

    Finally, my mate couldn’t take it any longer, and he asked me about the laws of kashrut. Never one to pass by a moment to talk about Torah, I started detailing various laws. Finally, he called out to the flight attendant and said, “Mam, please bring this fellow a tray of whole uncut fruits, and ply him with tea!” And so the airline did.

    (My neighbor was an interesting fellow: a British employee of Jaguar, his occupation being marketing Jaguar in Israel.)

    On the return flight (Air France – America to France, and from there to Israel), I already knew I wouldn’t have a kosher meal, so I said nothing to the flight attendants; I just sat down and minded my own business, content that I’d be eating nothing. But pre-flight, one attendant came up to me carrying a clipboard; with a quizzical look, he said, “Excuse me sir, but we don’t have you down here for a kosher meal; is everything alright?” There was nothing he could do for me, but I was impressed, I’ll tell you what!

    On the second leg of that return flight, there was somehow a spare kosher meal, so I got to eat after all.

    • I was on a British airways flight last winter (TLV to NY via London), and my Kosher order did not pass through somehow. On the first flight, from Israel to London I ate nothing, but had some food with me. In heathrow they promised Kosher for the second flight. However, it did not pass through, and the flight attendant sadly informed me so, saying he’ll see what can be done. I gave up, but to my surprise he came over, telling me that they found an extra Kosher meal in first class, if that was all right…
      It sure was! A delicious full three course meal, on china and stainless cutlery, with a cloth napkin and even Belgium chocolates on the side! The only disappointing thing was, there was nobody to watch me jealously, because it was such an empty flight, that there were only about 50 people in the entire economy class, so I was more or less alone in my area!

  8. hope it’s ok to join in even the post is quite old. I’ll be going with El Al in a few weeks and I finally will try the kosher vegetarian option. Judging from most airline kosher foods I don’t have much hope, but just curious if anyone has tried it.

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  11. Being a FA, I sometimes come across passengers whose Kosher meal did not come through. Not wanting to see them go hungry throughout a long flight, what can I offer to fill their stomach? usually there are more than enough food onboard to go around. eg. beef steak, chicken gordon bleu, poach salmon, lamb shank, just to name a few

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