In distressing news, people are voluntarily buying and eating airplane food

Pastries being packaged at a flight catering facility, 2019
Pastries being packaged at a flight catering facility, 2019
Photo: Rostislav Netisov/TASS (Getty Images)

There are a great many things to miss about travel: new experiences, a change in scenery, a chance to try new foods and learn new things. But there are also many things about travel that are not worth pining for, and airplane food is one of them. So it’s more than a little mystifying, if not downright vexing, that people are not only buying airplane food to eat in the comfort of their own home, they are enthusiastically seeking it out.

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So, okay, it’s not always actual airplane food. These meals, which The Korea Herald says are legitimately popular in South Korea, are sold by the convenience store chain “CU” and weren’t made to be scarfed down at 40,000 feet before the flight attendant comes back around two minutes later to collect the trash that will otherwise linger in your seat pocket for hours. The meals are designed to look like airplane food, though, and to evoke the experience of eating it, and that in itself seems to be enough to attract the attention of South Korea’s trend-chasing young people.

The Korea Herald posits that the popularity might be tied to the South Korean “mukbang” phenomenon, in which iron-bellied YouTubers eat massive amounts of food on camera for lolz and (presumably) massive endorsement deals. Airline food, the Herald says, is a popular choice for mukbang, and that digital enthusiasm seems to be spilling over into real life.

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This is probably a good thing for the airline industry. While the Herald says that no South Korean airlines have yet begun to sell actual airline food for home consumption, airlines in Thailand and Canada have, and this may help to solve a financial problem that otherwise has seemingly no solution.

What’s particularly interesting is that the meals being sold by CU convenience stores are modeled after coach meals and not those served in business or first class, where you get actual food served on actual plates that (depending on the airline) can be so dramatically different from what’s served to coach passengers that it’s almost like something from Snowpiercer. Even now, with most air travel a fleeting memory, artifacts of class imbalance aren’t just present, they’re being actively enforced by influencers.

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

What’s particularly interesting is that the meals being sold by CU convenience stores are modeled after coach meals and not those served in business or first class, where you get actual food

I’ve flown business. I would describe it as “less inedible” than what they make you pay for in coach, and only a little less.