Apart from the obvious reason that the food is not served fresh, there is a surprising aspect to the lack of flavour in airline food:
“When you travel at a high altitude, your sense of taste isn’t the same as it is in a restaurant,” says Peter Wilander, managing director of onboard services at Delta. The reasons for this primarily have to do with humidity … or, rather, a lack thereof.
Why is that?
The cabins of airplanes are pressurized with an extremely low humidity level of just 4%, largely to reduce the risk of internal corrosion; the only humidity in an airplane cabin comes from other people’s breath. The problem with low humidity, though, is it causes our sinuses to close. This is why you always feel as if you have a slight cold when you fly. Simultaneously, the low humidity dries your food out quicker than it happens on the ground.
Another reason is the expectations management; flying is boring (except if you are the pilot, probably). So you are waiting for food as a cure to boredom as well as hunger. Your expectations are too high for the reality and, as everyone knows: happiness = expectations - outcome.
When there’s nothing else to do but sit in a chair and look at the back of someone’s head, meals become something to look forward to. But their faults also become something to scrutinize. The result is that even the best airline meals have a hard time holding up to the critical eye of bored, stuffed-up passengers at 30,000 feet.
What will solve this problem?
It is technology that is most likely to improve the experience of in-flight dining. New planes like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner feature improved cabin pressurization systems that not only make passengers feel healthier, but improve cabin humidity up to 15%. That’s a fourfold improvement in humidity that makes it all the more likely that your sinuses will stay open in-flight. Simply put? On newer planes like the 787, food will just taste better.