Find Out About The First Meals Served On Board A Plane

A young woman cuts into a piece of meat on her dinner plate, settled against a comfortably plush seat. Salt and pepper shakers, and a few pieces of tableware including a cup and a crystal tumbler take up the tray table in front of her. A stewardess in uniform, hat perched jauntily on her head, bends over the woman’s table, pouring wine into her glass. A small logo embroidered into the tea towel she holds reads “BOAC”, short for the British Overseas Airways Corporation. The setting was the BOAC’s de Havillad Comet, the world’s first-ever commercial jetliner, which made its debut flight on 2nd May 1952.

The Comet’s passengers were accustomed to flying in luxury, and the in-flight dining was but one part of it. Unlike the interiors of aeroplanes of today, where it’s all about squeezing every millimetre of space to fit in another row of seats, the Comet had room enough to stretch. It was divided into two cabins, with a capacity of 36 passengers each. First Class eschewed the rows we’re familiar with today, and followed the same model as a carriage in a train: the passengers would sit around tables. This luxurious setting was meant to cater to travellers who were hitherto used to the facilities on ocean liners since long-distance air travel was not a comfortable experience until the Comet made it so. 

However, even before the Comet, air travel — while uncomfortable — did have a sop in the form of far better meals than we are accustomed to now. As early as 1918-19, the first-ever airline flight (on a London-Paris route) had cold fried chicken, delicate sandwiches and fruit salads brought out in wicker baskets and “the lightest china imaginable” to all passengers. Over the 1930s-50s, these choices had evolved to include dishes a fine dining establishment might have been proud of: “consommé julienne, broiled double French lamb chops, fresh string beans with parsley potatoes and Belgian endive salad”, was on offer on one Pan Am flight from New York to Bermuda.

After the Comet flight, things only got more elaborate. Over the ‘60s, Pan Am tied up with the legendary Maxim’s from Paris. Celebrity chefs were the next to be brought on board. “Fresh lobster, filet mignon, herb-buttered rolls, macaroon ice cream balls with brandied apricot sauce” reads one of the menus that were in rotation on American Airlines flights in the late 1950s-early 60s. The most delicious detail? Whether you were in First Class or Economy, you were served the same menu.

Here's a recipe straight from the airline-style menus for you to try:


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 drizzle olive oil
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 pinches herbs of choice
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • ½ cup chicken stock, or to taste


  • To prepare the chicken, begin by cutting off ½ of each wing at the joint where it meets the drumette. 
  • Next, slice through the skin that connects the thighs and breasts. 
  • Create a shallow cut along the breastbone, and two deeper cuts on either side to separate the breasts. 
  • Use the tip of the knife to slice each breast off the carcass, while keeping the blade pressed against the bone. 
  • Cut through the cartilage to remove the breast with the wing still attached, and save the remaining chicken for another purpose. 
  • Remove the tenders from the breasts, trim as needed, and season with a drizzle of olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, herbs, and cayenne pepper.
  • To stuff the tenders under the skin of the chicken breasts, gently push your finger under the skin next to the wing bone to separate it from the meat. 
  • Slide a tender under the skin, centre it, and smooth it over. Sprinkle kosher salt over the breasts.
  • In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. 
  • Place the chicken breasts in the skillet skin-side down and cook until the bottom is browned, for approximately 6 to 7 minutes. 
  • Flip the chicken and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink on the inside, and the juices run clear, for around 7 to 10 minutes. 
  • Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature, which should be at least 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).
  • After flipping the chicken, add 1 tablespoon of butter, thyme, and rosemary to the skillet, and baste the chicken with the butter-herb mixture. Once done, remove the chicken from the skillet.
  • Add the stock to the skillet, increase the heat to high, and boil until the mixture is reduced to the desired thickness, which should take about 2 minutes. 
  • Turn off the heat and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to make a sauce.
  • Slice each chicken breast into thirds and spoon the sauce on top before serving.