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Here in the United States, the typical economy class service offered on short-haul flights is a simple snack and beverage service. There are often options to purchase meals on board, but only on longer flights (e.g. flights 3 hours or longer). Within Europe, some airlines (even non-budget carriers) offer no complimentary service in economy, with even a simple non-alcoholic beverage costing money.

However, back in November 2019, I flew Air India on a short flight of just 1.5 hours (from Mumbai to Nagpur and back) in economy class, and a full, complimentary hot meal was served on board, nearly akin to a meal served on a long-haul flight. The food (idli sambar) tasted really good, and it's clear that they put a lot of thought into short-haul economy catering.

I also found out later that Sun-Air Scandinavia also served full hot meals on their short flights, averaging about 1 hour.

I'm asking this question in a similar style as What's the longest distance that can be traveled by only using free transportation?: what's the shortest flight on which a full, hot meal was served to all passengers onboard?

(Note that this question is being asked in the past tense. I'm well aware that many airlines are cutting service during the pandemic, but this question is asking on which flight was there one served.)

Rules:

  • The meal must be fully complimentary to all passengers in all cabins, meaning that no payment onboard, at the gate, at check-in, or at the time of booking should be required. Additionally, the meal shouldn't be restricted to specific ticket types (e.g. meals only served to those who've purchased a fully flexible ticket don't count).
  • The main part of the meal should be served hot.
  • The meal should have at least one side, cold or hot. Ideally, it should be served on a tray, similar to how a typical long-haul meal is served.
  • Times are based on the departure and arrival times as printed on the ticket, i.e. the gate-to-gate times, as these are usually the times used by airlines to see what kind of catering a specific flight is to receive. In case of ties, actual flying time can be used.
  • The flight must be a general, scheduled commercial flight, on which anyone can purchase a ticket and fly. (In other words, flights on private planes don't count.)
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  • I am fairly sure Liverpool - Douglas (Isle of Man) used to do this and they could be less than 30 minutes. Perhaps someone with more accurate information and timings could help. – Francis Davey Dec 15 '20 at 20:35
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    Not serving complementary proper meals on any flight is, I believe, a relatively new thing invented by the no-frill airlines and later adopted by conventional airlines. I am not sure about customs in the Americas, but until about 20 years ago, I would on probaly any flight in Europe, no matter how short, expect to be served a decent meal. If the meal was hot or cold would rather depend on the time of day and local customs and necessarily on the length of the flight. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Dec 16 '20 at 11:19
  • Just as @Tor-EinarJarnbjo explains, in the good old days, this was the norm. Just for example, in the British experience, Air France used to serve food like in France - ie incredibly good. So even on the hop from London to Paris you get a basically awesome meal! – Fattie Dec 17 '20 at 13:46
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30 minutes

(7.45a-8.15a) Flight: Air India 469, Raipur to Nagpur

Flew this leg in June 2019. Probably the shortest flight I’ve ever been on, which wasn’t an ATR. The breakfast was quite fulfilling with Aloo Parantha and Chole in the main course, bread and butter on the side, a bowl of fruit salad, yogurt and a bottle of water, served on a tray on par with long-haul flights and with disposable cutlery. The flight makes a stopover in Nagpur en route to Delhi and I’m not sure whether Air India serves breakfast again for passengers traveling to Delhi.

The flight was scrapped in late March 2020 — probably due to cost overruns and a new nonstop flight to Delhi which began operating with the same flight number.

(Also, I don’t have pictures of the meal)

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  • Those were the timetabled times as on the ticket? Or just actual flying times? – gparyani Dec 15 '20 at 12:04
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    Those were the actual timetabled times, the flight landed 5 minutes prior (in Nagpur), however it took more than 7 minutes or so to dock at an jet bridge gate. I also saw some people requesting a take out of their breakfast in Nagpur as they weren’t able to finish the meal on time. – Daryll Samuel Dec 15 '20 at 12:10
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    How do you even serve, let passengers eat, collect dishes between end of ascent and beginning of descent? – Hagen von Eitzen Dec 16 '20 at 8:44
  • That's what I was thinking, @HagenvonEitzen! – FreeMan Dec 16 '20 at 14:28
  • That's Air India for you, @HagenvonEitzen. Also, you should know that the flight makes a stopover at Nagpur en route to Delhi. This stopover was totally unnecessary from the technical point of view, however, it helped passengers to avoid the 6-hour train ride from Raipur to Nagpur. The same flight used to run nonstop on alternate days. And, as I said, some passengers requested for take-outs rather dining in, so yeah. No wonder, why AI scrapped the service. – Daryll Samuel Dec 16 '20 at 14:37
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I’ve had a full cooked breakfast on British Airways flights from Manchester to London Gatwick, back in the 1990s. It’s about 200 miles, and while the flights are generally scheduled to take about an hour, it can be not much more than half an hour in the air.

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  • Wait a minute...back then (and until 2017 or so), BA flights within the UK only had one cabin. It wasn't until then that they were considered just like short-haul international flights with two cabins. – gparyani Dec 15 '20 at 20:35
  • @gparyani Yes, one cabin. All passengers got the breakfast. – Mike Scott Dec 15 '20 at 20:42
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    BA only stopped serving hot breakfasts on domestics with the introduction of buy-on-board in 2017. IIRC, it was all pre-9am departures that got them. The oddity was, in later years, that it was only breakfast that had a meal served, as for the rest of the day all you got was a packet of crisps and a drink! – gsnedders Dec 16 '20 at 13:10
  • I got breakfast on an Edinburgh to Manchester flight once on BA which may have been even shorter – Ian Turton Dec 16 '20 at 17:46
  • @IanTurton There’s only about a ten mile difference, which is only a minute or two at cruising speed. – Mike Scott Dec 16 '20 at 21:31
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50 Min - Jet Airways Bangalore to Chennai

I remember back in 2010, I flew for 50 minutes from Bangalore to Chennai on Jet Airways and was given Paneer Burji. Oh so yummy.

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1 hour 40 minutes

Flight: Air India 627, Mumbai to Nagpur

I flew this in November 2019, and was served a full meal of idli sambar, complete with a side of yogurt and a package of Frooti mango juice drink. The meal was served on a tray with wrapped utensils, similar to how a typical long-haul meal is served. This was the only option for the meal, though those flying first/business class could choose from multiple options.

Incidentally, I flew the same flight in the summer of 2012, and was served a very crappy cold sandwich. The service had improved quite a bit since then...

(Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the meal.)

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