How, when to bring your packed meals

Saturday December 30 2017

A lunchbox of wholesome food.

A lunchbox of wholesome food. When it comes to carrying your own food for a flight, not everything goes. FOTOSEARCH 

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One of the most interesting inflight scenes of 2017 for me, was when a group of travellers brought their own meals and proceeded to lay out a feast on their trays.

They declined the airline meal, and in fact, all they needed from the onboard catering service were beverages and water.

Seated across the aisle from them, I must admit the whiff of jollof rice was mouth-watering. If you have never had the pleasure of eating this West African dish, you are excused for your culinary timidness.

Against such a sensory attack, it was difficult finishing the bland airline food I had been served. And just when I thought the party was piping down, one of them unpacked — from their carry-on bag — some kind of fried fowl (you can never assume everything is chicken) garnished with some chili — at least evidenced by the sweat, red eyes and amount of beverages the party used to wash it down.

The icing on the cake was when they washed their meal down with whisky, obviously bought at the duty free shop before boarding, going by the packaging.

With the many regulations airlines have in place, isn’t there one banning passengers from bringing their own food?

Food is, and will always remain more than a nutritional matter for humans. It is a cultural, emotional, psychological, social status and in some cases even a survival issue depending on what part of the world you are coming from.

Food is used as a marketing tool by majority of airlines in this region. For some reason, the African traveller ranks the quality of inflight catering almost as high as the fare charged.

Other concerns like safety, seat pitch and legroom and punctuality come second to these primary concerns.

Global trends indicate that full service airlines spend up to 10 per cent of their direct operating costs on inflight services even though actual expenditure may vary according to carriers.

Food is big for the aviation industry as a whole; the inflight catering services’ global market is projected to reach $18 billion by 2020.

Be that as it may, there is an emerging trend of low cost airlines offering “no frills” service, hence more passengers will be bringing their own packed meals or snacks.

First in line to possibly be affected by a change in inflight catering policy might be flights under two to three hours where you would be lucky to even get the standard packet of nuts and a soda.

When it comes to carrying your own food for a flight, not everything goes — perhaps a quick check into the carrier or airport website you are flying from could give indicators of what is permissible.

Most airlines that operate in the region are silent in their conditions of carriage on whether they allow food. However the regulations on prohibited and restricted items apply.

During security checks at airports for instance, liquids in excess of 100 millilitres even if they are food items are hard to get through.

Where it is inevitable that you must carry food for whatever reason, dry snacks like sandwiches, samosas and buns could work better than gravy, sauce or other non-dry food.

It might be worth your while to invest in clear or see-through food containers as opposed to using loose unhygienic packing material.  

While I cannot be an authority on quantities of food to be carried for onboard, practice moderation – it’s just a flight not an eat-all-you-can party.

Rule of thumb is, if you are going to carry any food in your carry on or checked-in baggage, show up at the airport early as the security checks might take more time than anticipated.

Don’t forget that Customs at some airports can be very unforgiving when it comes to food items as each country has its own restrictions.

I still remember the look of amazement on the faces of Customs officials at the JKIA, in Nairobi, a couple of years ago when I landed with a whole cured leg of pork as part of my checked-in baggage.

Here is to more travels in 2018. Happy new year.

Michael Otieno is an aviation consultant and travel writer based in Nairobi. Twitter: @mosafariz; Email: [email protected]