In the right context, food is a welcomed fragrance. Who doesn’t love the scent of smoked meats, cookies or even the factory-furbished stench of a fast food bag filled with an amuse bouche of trans fat? Point is, the smell of food can be mesmerizing.
Unless you’ve ever sat next to said smell aboard a plane cruising at 30,000 feet. If you have, then you know that this aromatic cage is uniquely trapping. Not only is it impolite to tell the person sitting next to you, behind you or three rows back that their latest burrito creation smells like a rotting carcass glazed in queso, but even if you did tell them, it’s too late: The smell has already seeped its way into the cabin air, making carcass queso your evening’s in-flight nasal entertainment.
In an effort to help you, your fellow passengers, and really, the international community, let’s talk airplane food etiquette. But first things first, although it’s not food, you’re probably wondering if you’re allowed to open that handle of tequila you purchased at the duty-free store so that, y’know, you can get the pre-vacation party started early.
The answer, I’m sorry to say, is an unequivocal “no,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) regulations: “(a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him,” quotes The Points Guy. In other words, it’s illegal to drink your own alcohol on an airplane. “That means even when flying over Mexico or any other country, you still can’t start drinking your own moonshine on any U.S. airline,” he continues.
In case you’re jonesing, there is an alternative (fairly illegal) way to get drinks from your local liquor store onto a flight, though. This (illegal) trick involves purchasing airplane-size bottles from your local liquor store which, at 1.5 ounces, happen to be under the 3.4 ounce FAA limit. “You’ll get them past TSA without any problems, but you’ll have to be a little sneakier once you get on the plane, because you are technically committing a crime,” according to Lifehacker. “To seem less suspicious, look into what bottles the airline serves beforehand, then purchase that brand (or brands) of booze. Order a mixer, and once the bar cart has passed and everyone is enjoying their beverages, quietly sneak your little bottle out and make (and enjoy) your drink.”
Now that we’ve tossed the elephant in the cabin out the nearest emergency exit, let’s get to the solid stuff. Jacqueline Whitmore, author of a book on etiquette and who also worked previously as a flight attendant for a major carrier, told The Points Guy in a different article that you should refrain from bringing anything on board that’s even remotely stinky. “Anything with a heavy garlic, onion or fishy aroma should be avoided,” she told The Points Guy.
Additionally, she advises that even if you don’t think the food you’re bringing is stinky, it’s better to ask the people around you for permission before you unleash its aroma onto their nostrils. “To really mind your mealtime manners, Whitmore advises disarming other passengers proactively to avoid a culinary confrontation. ‘I always ask permission before opening up something that I think might have a smell. And sometimes, just to be kind, I even offer to share if I have something I think my seatmates might like,’” per The Points Guy.
A 2010 CNN report agrees that anything garlicky or fishy is an automatic no-no, but they include your favorite purveyors of fast food, too. “If I could impart one wish to other families who are flying, it would be to please not bring on board the [fast food] that you can get past security at the airport,” Jennifer Miner, who flies about once a month and is the co-founder of the travel blog TheVacationGals.com, told CNN. “Because even more than a small can of tuna, the smell of [fast food] can fill up an entire plane in a minute, and it’s not a great smell to a lot of us.”
So if you shouldn’t be eating fast food on a plane, and if you don’t want to spend the equivalent of purchasing a medium-sized car on a stale roll full of withered lettuce, what are some appropriate in-flight foods?
Anna Post, an etiquette expert, author and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, told CNN that the foods you can bring are the foods that you’re not going to be particularly excited to eat. “Fruit, crackers, pretzels and cold sandwiches are good choices to bring along on board. ‘Most anything that’s sold in the airport snack stores is probably going to be fine,’” Post told the cable news network.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution to all your eating-on-an-airplane etiquette issues: If you insist on eating a tuna sandwich every time you fly, just eat it before you board the plane. That way, at least, the person sitting next to you won’t think that you’re rude — he’ll just assume that you smell terrible.