Cockpit Chronicles: Video—Food in the cockpit. How it’s prepared and what is served

“I’m getting kind of tired of these chicken Caesar salads.”

I said those words just a few months into my career at American. The statement resonated loudly after I was furloughed and flying for a freight airline with barely a bottle of water on board, so I vowed that I would never complain about a crew meal again.

In fact, when I came back to AA I nearly cried when a flight attendant entered the 727 cockpit and asked us what we wanted to drink.

Now, after ten years of international flying, mostly to Europe, I’ve enjoyed more crew meals than I probably should have. Warm dishes on an airline flight might be foreign to today’s passengers and even some of our domestic pilots, but on the international side we still enjoy food just as it was in the earlier days of airline flying.

The usual transatlantic daytime flight might include appetizers, such as nuts and cheese, salads, a main course with an overabundance of bread and a slice of cheesecake perhaps, followed later by a Sundae or cookies. Before landing in the afternoon, there’s often a cheese plate or fruit dish, followed by a pizza or steak sandwich.

Honestly, it’s too much. But if you’re paying for a business class experience, over indulging every now and then isn’t bad. For pilots however, these crew meals can add more pounds in the first year of international flying than during a freshman year in college.

I limit myself to just the nuts as a starter followed by the salad. Later, if there’s any fruit available, I’ll have some of that, or if it’s morning in Europe, the cold cereal is a good choice. Anything more and I begin to feel overly tired during the overnight flight across the pond. Since I’ve cut back I’ve noticed a definite slackening of my uniform pants.

Typically three meals are put on for the three-pilot cockpit crew, two items the same, often chicken or steak and the third perhaps being a pasta dish.

Most co-pilots give the choice of meal to the captain, and the captain often defers back to the co-pilot. It can become comical at times; neither pilot wanting to make what is probably the least important decision of the flight. Alas, it’s typically decided that whoever is flying the plane for that leg should choose.

I’ve enlisted the help of our flight attendant Susan, who made a brief appearance in my Boston to Paris video seven years ago, to appear again in front of the camera to show how she manages the cockpit and passenger meals for a 10½ hour flight from Rio to New York.

Notice just how busy Susan is before boarding. As the “number five” flight attendant out of nine aboard our 767, she’s ‘the cook’ up front, responsible for not only preparing and cooking the meals, but setting up the galley on the ground.

Passengers in the back also enjoy a hot meal, and there’s another flight attendant with three ovens getting ready to prepare that food as well.

Every month the meal types and even the kind of cheese in the appetizer change. Some plates are exceptional-a white chocolate glazed chicken dish sounded terrible but turned out to be fantastic-and some I’ve avoided after just one bite, such as the foie gras stuffed chicken.

The ‘insert’ shown in the video is mostly an international custom. It keeps the pilots from having to call back every time they’re ready for more water or soda. It’s brought to the cockpit only after takeoff to prevent anything loose from bouncing around the flight deck.

The sundaes and baked cookies aren’t normally part of our meals, but some of the nicer flight attendants will still offer them.

In the past, no two pilots could eat the same meal, and they had to be served at different times. At my airline, these restrictions have been relaxed, however.

For the past year or so, I’ve taken to capturing some of the crew meals with a camera. Apparently I fall into the crowd that likes taking food pictures. The gallery below shows some of my favorite crew meals of all time:


Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.