Do Pilots Really Eat Different Meals On A Flight?

The last thing you want to be affected by on board an aircraft is food poisoning. It’s even worse when it comes from a badly prepared meal with other passengers are affected. It has been said that the two pilots (or more) on board a plane generally eat different meals to reduce the rare risk of food poisoning. However, is this true?

Virgin Upper Class meal tray
Do pilots get the same meals as each other and the passengers? Photo: Virgin Atlantic

How common is mass food poisoning?

You might be surprised to hear that food poisoning is one of the rarest ailments on an aircraft. While it can be deadly for some, it is mostly unpleasant and would involve hundreds of passengers needing to use the bathroom simultaneously – a thought that is more horrible than we would like to go into detail.

Fortunately, this type of event is scarce. An example of this occurring was a Concorde flight in 1984, where nearly all the passengers onboard (and several flight attendants) contracted salmonellosis. 120 passengers across British Airways contracted the virus and had to be treated while onboard – one passenger died from complications. However, the pilots turned out to be fine, but not because they followed any rules.

It turns out that in 1984, there were no rules about what meals pilots can or can’t eat. 

But the belief – which is shared even by epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control – is false. According to spokesmen for the Civil Aeronautics Board, no airline industry regulations govern food service to the cockpit crews, the Federal Aviation Administration, and various pilot and industry associations. – New York Times reporting in 1984

Another example was a Toyko to Paris Japan Air Lines flight in 1975 when 143 of the 364 passengers became sick with food poisoning. The pilots managed to avoid it because they didn’t eat the bad eggs, but they had the dinner option thanks to their jetlag—a close call. While no one died from the event, the cook who prepared the meal apparently took their own life in the tragic fallout.

However, today things are different.

Pilots
Today there is an unwritten policy that pilots have different meals. Photo: Getty Images

What is the policy today?

While there is no written rule by aviation authorities, airlines can practice good practice to differentiate the meals between pilots and co-pilots just in case.

Korean Air has a system of choosing what meals to eat based on how senior the commanding pilot is.

“The pilot and the co-pilot…eat different meals,” according to the pilot in an interview with CNN.

“Usually the pilot gets the first-class meal and the co-pilot the business class meal. This is just in case one of the meals might cause food poisoning.”

Air-Canada-New-Economy-Meals
Pilots are also served different meals because they get bored eating the same thing every day. Photo: Air Canada News Room

Other airlines prepare separate meals for the pilots, not only from each other but independent of the mass-produced passenger meals. Not just to protect the pilots, but to also give them some variety – after all, if they are flying daily routes, they would have tried everything on the menu.

“Meals for the crew are based on individual preferences and job requirements – the meals are not the same as those offered to passengers, although the selection of the hot dishes is the same for crew and business-class passengers.” An Aeroflot pilot said to Traveller.com.au

What do you think? Should pilots have different meals? Let us know in the comments.

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