What Makes This US Airline's Food Stand Out So Much It's Recognized As One Of The Best

Seasoned travelers know that airplane food is edible but not the tastiest. The meals airlines provide tend to be unexciting. Combine this with reduced senses caused by cabin conditions, and you have a disastrous formula. While some may resort to bringing their food through TSA, this won't be necessary if they fly with Hawaiian Airlines. In 2023, Hawaiian was voted the best domestic airline by Travel & Leisure readers, who cited the food as part of the reason. Hawaiian's inflight meals have also received praise from Food & Wine magazine.

Notably, all of Hawaiian's meals are curated by well-established chefs. Since 2021, married couple Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka have been the airline's executive chefs. The Hawaii natives are owners of the top-rated MW restaurant in Honolulu. In addition, the airline has a featured chef series where they bring other celebrated individuals from Hawaii's restaurant industry to their team.

These chefs, like Robynne Maii, work on inflight meals provided to Hawaiian's first-class passengers. Per USA Today, a past example of Maii's first-class main entrees included chicken schnitzel with a side of potatoes and a vegetarian risotto made with zucchini, asparagus, and peas. An appetizer (salad) and dessert (opera cake) were also served with the meal.

Other first-class perks for passengers on certain Hawaiian flights include pre-departure cocktails and a large selection of alcoholic beverages. While only first-class passengers get to dine on fine meals from the featured chef series, the main cabin has it pretty good, too.

Hawaiian Airlines' in-flight offerings are swoon-worthy

Hawaiian Airlines inflight meals and drinks are complimentary to passengers. However, the inflight meals vary depending on where passengers fly. In addition, the menu, which the airline notes is influenced by Hawaiian cuisine, appears to change every few months. With that in mind, passengers flying in the main cabin can expect to be well nourished on their flights.

For instance, at the time of this publication, main cabin passengers on a flight from Honolulu to Aukland are provided with two meals. For the first meal, they can choose between teriyaki chicken with vegetables and rice or braised pork with vegetables and mashed potatoes. The second meal is a turkey and cheese sandwich.

On a flight from Honolulu to New York, main cabin passengers can feast on red curry chicken with vegetables and rice or vegetarian rigatoni pasta with lentil bolognese sauce. Likewise, Loco Moco, a renowned Hawaiian dish, is served to main cabin passengers flying from Japan to Hawaii. (Please note: these meals are examples at the time of publication that are part of an evolving menu).

An example of a tasty penne pasta lunch provided by Hawaiian to main cabin passengers in July 2023 can be seen in the TikTok above. Main cabin passengers are also given a local Hawaiian-made cookie from La Tour Café or the Honolulu Cookie Company for dessert with their meal.

Hawaiian Airlines' food didn't always have a positive reputation

Reviewers and passengers rave about the tastiness of Hawaiian Airlines food. But in 2017, Hawaiian's inflight meals made headlines for the wrong reasons. That year, a study by Charles Platkin, Ph.D., from New York City's Hunter College, concluded that Hawaiian's inflight meals were the unhealthiest compared to other airlines like Delta, American Airlines, and others. The average Hawaiian Airlines meal was 971 calories.

For comparison, the average meal on Delta was 559 calories. Platkin also disapproved of the number of calories in the snacks (like salted macadamia nuts) provided by Hawaiian. In his opinion, passengers should skip out on Hawaiian's meals.

It's unclear if Hawaiian has improved their meal's nutritional values in the years since the study was released. That said, there are no special meals on Hawaiian's domestic flights for those with any dietary restrictions or who follow special diets (like vegetarianism or veganism).

However, they are available on international flights but must be ordered before departure. Passengers can put in a request for a special meal up to 48 hours before their flight by calling Hawaiian Airlines. In late 2023, it was revealed that Hawaiian was planning to merge with Alaska Airlines in a $1.9 billion deal. If this merger goes through, it's unknown if or how Hawaiian's inflight meals will be affected.