What Do Pilots Eat at 35,000 Feet?


Ever wonder what pilots eat? Here’s a look at what is consumed in the cockpit, what aircrew eat during layovers and more.

The flight deck is where I work, but sometimes it’s also a fast–moving diner with spectacular views. I could be supping over the snow–covered Rockies while en route to Vancouver, or seeing flashes of lights from Japanese fishing fleets after setting course from Tokyo.

Before takeoff, separate crew meals are boarded for international and domestic flights. There are protocols for captains and first officers, such as not eating the same meal and eating at different times, to keep things safe.

Related: How to Read Clouds (and Flight Conditions) According to an Air Canada Captain

Meal types boarded for aircrew are predicated on local time. A noon departure from Paris means lunch is boarded even though it’s early morning in Canada. To prevent spills, flight attendants pass drinks from outside the perimeter of the flight deck.

Related: Does Travel Make You Hungry? Yes, According to Science

Special meals are boarded for crew with dietary concerns, and I have to say, they’re pretty good. If we’re patient, we can occasionally indulge in business–class extras, including heated nuts and cheese trays. Other times, the only snack is packaged almonds, a.k.a. “pilot pellets.”

Throughout Covid–19, our cargo flights teemed with catering, including cheese and fruit trays, but pilots had to figure out how to work the ovens and make coffee. I’m now officially “checked out” on how to operate both.

Related: Canada’s Top Barista on How Travel Transforms the Way We Drink Coffee

During layovers, we aircrew often find frugal dining venues – we could probably write a guidebook on budget eats. My offbeat palate picks are octopus in Greece, steak tartare in France and pork knuckles in Germany. I haven’t worked up the nerve to taste freshly skinned eels in Japan or chocolate–covered crickets in South Korea, but I’ve eaten chewy cod tongues in Newfoundland. While I passed on the “thousand–year egg” (preserved chicken or duck egg) in Hong Kong, I tried pigeon, which tastes like a less meaty chicken. I’d offer eatery recommendations, but I’m not allowed: Pilot picks are confidential for security reasons.

December 1, 2021

Mile–High Hydration

  • At cruising altitudes above 30,000 feet, cabin air pressure is similar to that found outside at 8,000 feet and cabin humidity levels are about 20 percent – as dry as the Atacama Desert.

glass of orange juice
Photo: Greg Rosenke (Unsplash)
  • Needless to say, it’s important for passengers to stay hydrated: Drink water on board and opt for juices instead of diuretics like alcohol and coffee from the refreshment trolley.

bottle of water
Photo: Michal Dziedziak (iStock)
  • That goes for us in the flight deck, too: A 1–litre bottle of water is boarded for each pilot for every 8 hours on duty, but we still tend to be avid consumers of coffee.

Three Things Every Air Canada Pilot Knows

illustration of bowl of food
  1. The cheapest meals in most domestic and international cities.

illustration of burrito
  1. The best burrito spot at Denver International Airport. 

illustration of gyoza
  1. Where to find the top gyoza in YVR. 

Ask the Captain

Do you have questions about another facet of air travel? Send your aviation and operations queries to: douglas.morris@aircanada.ca

Portrait of Air Canada's Captain Doug Morris
Photo: Reynard Li

Doug Morris is an author, meteorologist, instructor and Air Canada captain on the Boeing 787.