No Peanuts

Alaska Airlines Brings Back Hot Food for Main Cabin Fliers

We tried it. Here's our verdict.

By Allison Williams May 22, 2024

Alaska Airlines debuts new food—but they won't all be available on the same flight.

Is there an easier target than airplane food? To complain about a meal served at 30,000 feet has the energy of a hacky comedian launching into a "What's the deal with..." rant. Or at least it did until mile-high dining more or less disappeared on domestic flights in recent years. Airplane peanuts, we hardly knew ye.

But Alaska Airlines is stepping back into the fray with a new slate of hot meals, launching today. We took part in an airline-hosted taste test at ground level, and the bottom line is, well, a mixed bag.

The Seattle-based airline stopped heating up meals for the main cabin back in the late 2010s after a Tom Douglas–centered foray in branded dining. In recent years only the first-class passengers got to warm their bellies, but starting today the rest of us get in on the action, at least on flights over 1,100 miles. (They plan by mileage instead of elapsed time because, as we all know, the length of a particular flight can vary wildly.) Think Hawai'i flights but not hops to Los Angeles.

The catch: you gotta pay for these snacks and reserve them in advance; 0rdering is available from two weeks to 20 hours before takeoff. At the taste test, Alaska food and beverage product manager David Rodriguez noted that the prep kitchens would prefer even more notice, but the 20-hour cutoff allows for a bit of overlap with the 24-hour check-in window. Each dish costs $11.50 ($10.50 for the breakfast sandwich), with Alaska Airlines credit card holders scoring a 20 percent discount.

The carnitas breakfast bowl is truly tasty.

But back to the food itself. With an Evergreens, a Beecher's, and a whole slew of take-out options at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport available, how do these new dishes rank? I tasted four:

• A monte cristo breakfast sandwich with sliced turkey and ham; the combo of two mild meats with both melted swiss cheese and cream cheese was a bit bland, and the hit of raspberry jam inside the croissant-style roll was lost.

• The carnitas breakfast bowl, whose pulled pork was topped with a salsa verde with surprising but not overwhelming kick. I'd have happily scarfed down the entirety of this trio of meat, breakfast potatoes, and not-rubbery scrambled eggs.

• A panang curry chicken with a red coconut sauce and sweet red peppers. The hefty edamame beans on top give it a jolt of fresh veggie feeling, but the overall vibe was pleasantly forgettable. 

• And finally, a duo of pretzel roll sliders with beef patties and caramelized onions with more swiss. The mix of salty and rich lands—who doesn't love a good soft onion?—but the bites disappear quickly; the included side of potato chips will help.

All four dishes hit squarely between "snack" and "meal" in terms of serving size, which actually makes sense for an Alaska Airlines–length flight (after all, they don't do long-hauls to Singapore). Big eaters may be disappointed, but these serving sizes, around three ounces of protein plus carb and veggies, are a reasonable step up from the snack boxes and cold Evergreens salads also available to coach passengers. No smelly leftovers to hang onto during turbulence, or filling up too much to enjoy the first meal at the vacation destination.

The dishes were developed by chef Tony Wright with LSG Sky Chefs, a catering company, so they come with an understanding of what does and doesn't work at cruising altitude. "Bread that's been under refrigeration is hard," says Rodriguez, but the King's Hawaiian buns and croissant rolls reheat better. "You can't do avocado. We've tried," he adds.

Beef sliders serve as a hefty snack if not a full meal.

Rodriguez and the Alaska staff took Wright out on the town to El Nido and Tomo to give him a sense of Seattle dining and while no one would mistake these in-flight entrees for that award-winning cuisine, there is some sense of West Coast flavor to the menu. Alaska also serves Fremont Brewing beer (including a new Cloud Cruiser IPA), Ellenos yogurt, and those Evergreen salads—though the latter were developed by the Seattle-based chain, they're made at the catering facility.

With sustainable packaging made of sugarcane fiber and other non-plastic materials, the meals feel like a very small upgrade to the existing cold options on Alaska. Will I remember—or bother—to order in advance of my next flight? Maybe not, but I will look with jealousy at any seatmate chowing down on the carnitas breakfast bowl or pretzel sliders when I don't.