109

I was wondering what will happen if I was wearing headphones or asleep (or both) and I missed the in-flight food? I don't want to miss it, but I know when I get lost in my music or fall asleep I hardly notice anything around me...Is this possible? How does the staff inform the passengers about the food?

This might come off as kind of a dumb question, but I've never travelled long-haul before, and I'm very paranoid by nature.

  • 12
    I suggest when you board or when the flight attendants come through at the beginning of the flight, you request they wake you up to eat. I don't think you can get lost enough in the music to miss the food service. – Andrew Lazarus Aug 4 '17 at 17:59
  • 4
    Cabin crew are used to getting people's attention when they have headphones on, so that will not be an issue. – user13044 Aug 4 '17 at 18:12
  • 16
    @Barmar The American airlines continue to serve meals on transoceanic service. – Andrew Lazarus Aug 5 '17 at 1:18
  • 14
    @dn3s Giving meals to 150-400 people takes a long time. If you're in the bathroom for the whole of that time, you're probably too ill to eat. ;-) If they pass your seat while you're in the bathroom, just go up to them and tell them what happened. – David Richerby Aug 5 '17 at 20:10
  • 3
    Etihad Airways has a good solution to this problem using eye masks with labels: pbs.twimg.com/media/C5Fn-scW8AEQph_.jpg – shortstheory Aug 8 '17 at 14:41

11 Answers 11

148

A senior cabin crew member here.

There's nothing to worry about, we ought to wake passengers up during meal services, for both service and safety reasons:

  1. Service: So no one misses the meal, then give us hard time later trying to get them one, or even worse, file a complaint! Also, meals cannot be served more than 30 minutes after they are heated, and cannot be reheated.

  2. Safety: So we check on the well-being of passengers. Many of the passenger incapacitations on board are discovered when we couldn't wake them up during meal services. I personally was on a few flights where seriously ill passengers' lives were saved because of trying to wake them up and figuring out that they need help.

This is a policy in my airline, I think other airlines have the same policy.

An exception is when the passengers make it clear that they do not want to be disturbed (by telling the passenger next to them or by the DND sticker in some airlines), then the cabin crew will assume they are in deep sleep and they do not want to eat. Out of experience, very few passengers do that especially in long haul flights.

Anyhow, in case you missed the meal, ask the crew. There are usually some extra meals here or there.

  • 7
    I’ve never heard of the DND sticker. – JDługosz Aug 5 '17 at 6:33
  • 34
    @NeanDerThal I wonder what air line you are with. In my entire life I never got woken up by crew when I was sleeping at meal times. :( – Num Lock Aug 5 '17 at 10:27
  • 4
    I would wish these DND stickers were a thing everywhere :( I was woken up so many times by the cabin crew to get served some crappy breakfast at around 4am (because landing was around 6am). I don't want food at that time of the night, even less so if it is airline food. I just want to sleep peacefully :( – dirkk Aug 5 '17 at 13:31
  • 65
    I have a set of eye covers that, on one side, says "Please wake me up for the meal", and the other side says "Do not wake me up please." Those are very useful on flights. – Nelson Aug 5 '17 at 15:32
  • 13
    @ThePhoton True, I guess if you were in a diabetic coma and we let you die in peace because we thought you're sleeping you would be much happier.. – Nean Der Thal Aug 6 '17 at 11:51
29

Always tell the cabin crew what you want. In a kind way.

When they are not busy, ask gently, "I am not a frequent flier, and this is new to me; could I please be woken for the dinner service?"

Done.

EDIT:

Additionally, for an extra help, kindly ask your neighbor passenger to wake you if the flight attendant does not (even though he probably will), noting that it's okay if your neighbor passenger forgets or is asleep themselves.

  • 1
    Do they tend to remember? I feel like they might have so much on their mind and if multiple people do this they might not... – Mehrdad Aug 5 '17 at 19:07
  • 11
    @Mehrdad - a good friend who is cabin crew (for reference: Etihad, international flights) said this is the best strategy and that she feels any decent attendant would recall this. She often writes in her little notepad in the back that she shares with the other crew. I would not have posted without consulting a real cabin crew member. From my personal experience it is rare for special service to be requested such as yours. You've got this - just let them know from your seat when they're not busy and don't be a jerk, sit back get your rest and know that you'll be woken for dinner. – Mikey Aug 5 '17 at 22:20
24

There are meals for everyone on board. Not everyone eats even and falling asleep in an airplane is a rather difficult thing to do, so when staff passes to distribute meals, they will simply move along.

This is not a much of a problem because you can always call an attendant and request your meal at a later time. The common disadvantage of this is that they may run out of one of the meal options, if you are on a flight which offers a choice. However, you can easily get around this by requesting a specific meal type, so it will be reserved for you.

The only time you might actually miss your meal is if you manage to sleep through until the descent, at which point tray tables must be locked and they will not serve you. Unless, flying first class, an airline meal is not usually something people rave about. Sometimes I get served the meal and I end up not eating as it's so awful.

The other way to get your meal is to fly with someone else and let them know you want the meal. It is very common for flight attendants to ask if they should leave a meal for a sleeping member of family. This happens all the time with my kids since they actually manage to sleep on planes.

Addendum:

Although I have never seen this happen, according to comments food safety may prevent a meal from being warmed past a certain time if it was warmed before. When a flight is that long though, there is a second warm meal service (or even three) sometimes. Assuming you slept that long, I would consider it a good thing!

  • 17
    I've seen situations where you can be too late to request your meal if you've missed it, as there are usually time limits for food safety purposes. Some airlines will still give you some kind of a snack at this point though. – Zach Lipton Aug 4 '17 at 18:36
  • 2
    A back-up to @ZachLipton comment. They usually will not reheat food later due to safety concerns, so you might not get the hot portion of the meal if you sleep through the meal service and request it later. – mkennedy Aug 4 '17 at 20:26
  • 5
    Decent -> descent – Kat Aug 5 '17 at 0:06
  • 2
    @Barmar huh? just one random example lufthansa.com/us/en/Menus-in-Economy-Class "you have a choice of two hot main courses" Also, welcome to Travel Stackexchange, the MySQL answer you gave me on Stackoverflow is my go-to example on why Stackoverflow is great: here's this guy working in the industry almost as long as I am alive and he is answering me for free. Blows the mind. – chx Aug 5 '17 at 0:13
  • 2
    @Barmar You won't get hot food in economy on a US domestic flight. But you still get meals on international flights. (Delta have fed me twice in the last three weeks, for example.) – David Richerby Aug 5 '17 at 20:15
16

Often, at the start of the flight, the crew will announce the times at which they'll be serving meals or you may find this info on a menu (if they hand one out) or in the inflight magazine (e.g. Korean Air).

Normally meals are shortly after departure and/or shortly before landing. If you want to eat the first meal you can simply stay awake until it is served. For the final meal, the crew normally has to wake most everyone up for landing to check seatbelts, etc. so they just do it a bit earlier to do the meal service - all the lights turn on and there is a lot of noise and people moving about in the cabin so you may wake up.

Really long flights, especially daytime flights, may feature additional mid-flight snacks. These are easier to miss since the crew tries to let those opting to sleep rest. However, the crew is normally flexible about these, the food served is typically less perishable, and you'll likely easily be able to get this snack later if you slept through the service and wake up hungry - just ask nicely.

Some airlines have come up with a solutions to the conflict of some passengers wanting to sleep and others wanting to be woken up to eat. Some ask that you simply leave your tray table down as a sign you want to be woken up for the service while others provide you with stickers to let the crew know your preference of sleep vs. food:

Korean Air DND stickers

  • 3
    But I put the tray table down to sleep on – Azor Ahai Aug 4 '17 at 22:09
  • 4
    You could always write a clear note (ideally in marker, so it's easy to read) and put it on your tray table: "Please wake me for food if I'm sleeping." – Jim MacKenzie Aug 4 '17 at 22:37
  • 1
    I don't think I've ever heard the crew announce a schedule for serving meals. The closest to that in my experience is for them to announce at the start of service that they're starting service. Is this a first class vs cattle class thing? – Peter Taylor Aug 7 '17 at 23:00
  • 1
    @PeterTaylor I suppose it depends on airline, route and crew. I've experienced this in economy often: I can recall the purser explaining the meal service plan once airborne on Delta, KLM, Lufthansa and Austrian off the top of my head. – Carl Aug 8 '17 at 2:57
  • 1
    +1 I've always left my tray table down assuming the attendant would note it. – Joshua Drake Aug 8 '17 at 13:24
10

When I was younger airlines had tags on the seats where it indicated if you wanted to be woken for food. But that's now not the case. You could inform the flight attendant when you board that you want to be woken for food, but there is the chance that he/she might forget and/or that flight attendant won't be serving in your cabin. Your best bet probably would be to ask your neighbor to wake you when food comes. You could even write a sticky note for the flight attendant.

  • 6
    "Your best bet probably would be to ask your neighbor to wake you when food comes." THIS. – David Richerby Aug 4 '17 at 22:41
  • 3
    @DavidRicherby: That'd be great if your neighbor is planning on staying awake, but what if they decide they want to sleep in an hour? – Mehrdad Aug 5 '17 at 19:07
  • 3
    @Mehrdad If they tell you they can't, because they want to sleep, use one of the other cunning plans on this page. If they say "yes" and then fall asleep, worst case is that that you miss food; *shrug* stuff happens and I've never felt the need to have a bullet-proof plan to ensure I'll get an airline meal. Honestly, both of you will probably wake up when the cabin lights come on anyway. – David Richerby Aug 5 '17 at 19:39
  • 1
    I recently traveled with Emirates, and they had stickers in the long flights to put on top of your seat: wake me for food/let me sleep, and another one I don't remember. – Bernhard Aug 5 '17 at 20:39
  • @Bernhard: "Feed me in my sleep", maybe... (p.s. I flew with them a couple years ago and didn't notice this, is this new?) – Mehrdad Aug 8 '17 at 10:12
6

I often fall asleep on airplanes, but most of the time the attendant or the passenger besides me will wake me up when food is served. Sometimes I'll wake up for the food, but other times I'll tell the attendant I'm not eating, if there's nothing I want to eat.

Unless you are flying First Class, or flying with a carrier like Singapore Airlines (which does have good food), people don't worry too much about the meals. On most airlines, food is terrible.

Failing everything, if your flight is long enough, you could usually request snacks. When I miss my meal on my Cathay Pacific flights and feel hungry, I ask them for cup ramen. So, don't worry too much about getting starved on a long haul.

  • 11
    I've almost always found airline food to be at least edible. And I'd much rather eat some mediocre food than go hungry for multiple hours. – David Richerby Aug 4 '17 at 22:32
  • 2
    It is not the airline, it is being up in the sky, that makes food taste flat. If you taste the same food on the ground you will think they overdid in the taste makers. (Brother used to work in an airline food company, he had to taste for testing purposes.) – Willeke Aug 5 '17 at 8:48
  • 3
    @Willeke Yeah, people keep saying that. I'm far from convinced. Thing is, the first-class food still tastes pretty good. And Santa Fe, New Mexico, is at 7,200ft and has low humidity and all that, but nobody ever says, "It's not the restaurant, it's being in Santa Fe that makes the food taste bland." – David Richerby Aug 5 '17 at 19:47
  • @DavidRicherby Yep, I agree. Some airlines objectively have pretty good food. I've also been to mountainous places over 10, 000 ft (~3000m) in altitude; I didn't find the food more bland than at sea level. – xuq01 Aug 5 '17 at 21:33
  • 2
    @Willeke This still isn't adding up. You say that food in a restaurant in Santa Fe tastes good because the cook knew it was going to be eaten in those conditions. Well, the people preparing economy-class airline food surely know where it's going to be eaten so why can't they get it right, too? The people preparing the first-class food mysteriously can! – David Richerby Aug 7 '17 at 16:07
5

I was recently on a long (14+ hours) flight and subsequently a short (3 hours) connecting flight. There was no announcement for meal times but they woke up passengers for all major meals (dinner and breakfast).

However, this was not the case for snacks. I missed a bag of peanuts myself while napping. I've also seen other airlines leaving snacks right next to the passenger when they were asleep.

4

I fly long haul quite often with a variety of airlines. From my personal experience, fight crew will always wake passengers for meals. The only notable exception in my experience was Emirates Airways, where they would not wake you by default. Instead, they provided all passengers with small stickers "wake me for food" and "wake me for duty free", which they asked passengers to put on the corners of their seats as appropriate. This was the case in both business and economy class.

Do note that in business class they had hot food available on demand for the entire duration of the flight (with reasonable exceptions of take off, landing and turbulence). Last time I flew with them was about 5 years ago though, so things may have changed.

2

Pretty good answers by others already. But I like to stress one possibility that you could not get your food later.

Some passengers ask a flight attendant to serve more meal

I almost always ask a flight attendant to serve more meal, usually one or two but sometimes more, if there are leftovers. Most airlines are willing to serve these leftovers to passengers who want more meal.

If you are sleeping and crews don't serve your food either by waking you up or putting it on your table, your food might get consumed later by gluttony.

Recently I got on a 10+ hours flight. It departed around midnight so the first meal was only a sandwich. Once I finished eating it I asked a flight attendant if they could serve me more sandwiches, and she kindly got me more.

However, after she served me 5th leftover, she said it is the last one. So it is possible that you could miss your meal because a glutton on your flight wipes out leftovers!

2

You can miss a meal. I usually sleep on long flights, and the flight attendants don't usually wake me for meals.

If you are worried that they might skip you because you are asleep, talk to the flight attendant and ask to be woken at meal times.

  • 4
    I deleted your rant: it doesn't answer the question. – David Richerby Aug 5 '17 at 20:16
2

I flew a lot on many different airlines, and as a rule I never eat in a plane (yes even on 15 hour flights). Thus it was the opposite problem, but I can still answer based on experience :)

In my experience this largely depends on the airline. Thus you need to ask a flight attendant once you board: "if I'm asleep, will you wake me up when serving dinner?" If they do not, ask "what shall I do to ensure you would?"

European airlines (except low cost) tend to wake up everyone (Lufthansa even forces you to bring your seat upright even if you don't eat). So if you are flying with one, you will not miss your food. If you want want to be left alone, you have to tell a flight attendant, but in my experience they ignore this and will wake you up anyway.

American airlines, and low cost airlines all over the world tend not to wake passengers who are sleeping at all, unless you're obviously in distress. However they usually will reserve a meal for you, and would be glad to serve you once you're up.

Asian airlines also tend to not wake people up (with strange exception of China Southern), and some - Korean Air and another one - even give you the following stickers, which you are supposed to put on the headrest:

enter image description here

if you do this, they will respect the choice. If you do not, they seem to be trying to guess how deep is your sleep, by verbally asking if you want to eat. If you do not respond, they leave you alone. They will always have an extra meal anyway.

Also, as others mentioned, the airline will almost always have an extra meal for you. But to ensure this, you can order a special meal at check-in.

  • You cannot order a special meal at check in. All special meal requests require at least 24, but often 48 hour notice with all the many airlines I have ever flown on. – Aleks G Aug 9 '17 at 10:59
  • 1
    You certainly can request it - the airline usually stacks a couple extra special meals (note that you can buy a new ticket less than 24hr before the flight). So with common special meals (vegetarian etc) you will almost always succeed. If you ask for something more exotic, then yes, you might not get it - but you still might not get it even if you order a month in advance. – George Y. Aug 9 '17 at 18:46

protected by JonathanReez Aug 5 '17 at 12:33

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.