From bento boxes to chicken skewers: 5 airlines that let you upgrade your meals

Economy class passengers can pay for a better dining experience on many long-haul flights - if you choose your airline carefully.

It’s a scenario that’s bound to stir emotion on the plane: you’re sitting in economy class and as the meal service trolley grinds to a halt, your seat neighbour is served an appetising plate of Italian delicacies with a fine wine, while you’re handed chicken curry, a stodgy roll and a glass of whatever comes off the trolley.

If this ever happens to you, it’s probably not by accident. On long-haul flights, where a meal service is still expected and usually included in the airfare, more airlines are letting economy passengers upgrade their meals for a premium.

It’s the latest upselling technique for airlines, up against the economic realities of ever-rising fuel prices and financial troubles in Europe, which is squeezing demand for air travel on both sides of the Atlantic.

If only airlines radically improved their food in the first place, we hear you say. Then again, wouldn’t that defeat the point of economy class?

But if you’re willing to pay for better quality food in steerage, here’s five airlines that will let you pre-order a hot meal made with a little more love….. (just don’t look at the face of the person beside you).

US Airways

US Airways recently began offering economy class passengers the chance to pre-order a ‘premium’ meal and choose a matching wine on international flights between the US, South America, Europe and the Middle East. For around $20 (around £13) you could be peeling back the foil to find citrus marinated chicken skewers or vegetarian Portobello tortellini. Pre-book online at least 24 hours before your flight.

Austrian Airlines

Economy passengers travelling on Austrian Airlines long-haul and some intra-European flights out of Vienna Airport can pay extra to choose a three-course meal from an a-la-carte menu, for €15 (£12). Choices include a bento box, tapas or a Viennese chicken schnitzel. Meals can be reserved online up to 36 hours before departure, or up to one hour before an international flight from Vienna Airport (you can pre-book at a dedicated desk by the Check-in 3 area).

Air France

One of the perks of travelling in economy on Air France is that you can get sozzled on champagne without pulling out your wallet, as the airline offers free champagne all round on long-haul flights. And while a standard meal is included in the airfare, passengers travelling in Voyageur (economy) and premium Voyageur (premium economy) cabins from Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris-Orly can upgrade to an a la carte menu for between €12 and €28 (around £10-£22). Options include organic or italian cuisine. Preorder online up to 24 hours before departure.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines still offers complimentary meals in economy, but is banking on travellers in the holiday mindset to treat themselves to slightly better food. Passengers can now pay $10 (£6) extra for a ‘premium’ meal on flights between Hawaii and North America – if you don’t mind being fed chicken, which dominates the menu.


Economy passengers departing from KLM’s home hub at Amsterdam can switch their complimentary meal for something a little more special on most of its long-haul flights. Choices include an Indonesian rice dish, Italian, Japanese, Dutch food or a healthy option. Expect to pay between €12 and €15 (around £9-£12) for a meal tray.

Note: The airlines featured in this article still offer a standard meal on international flights as part of the airfare – for travellers who don’t wish to upgrade their meal.

Tell us: Would you pay extra for a better quality meal in economy class on a long-haul flight or are you happy to eat what’s put on your tray table? Please leave your comments below.

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