The Best Cocktails That Will Bring Your Taste Buds Back To Life On Your Next Flight

Have you ever wondered why that airplane chicken and rice tastes a little suspicious? Or how come your mid-flight airplane snack just doesn't hit the spot like it does when you're on the ground? Turns out, there's a scientific reason for that.

According to a 2010 study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, the environment inside an airplane can significantly impact your sense of taste and smell. Specifically, the unique conditions inside an aircraft cabin — including dryness, lower air pressure, and reduced oxygen levels — all come together to quickly dull your sense of smell, making it even more difficult for you to taste things properly. So, no, it's not that airline cooks can't cook (give them a break!) — it's that your body doesn't process flavors the same way it does on the ground.

Luckily, there's a way around this phenomenon for those who want to get a little boozy. From ordering a punchy gin and tonic to choosing a Bloody Mary that's packed with a sweet and salty kick, or opting for a classic glass of wine, certain flavor profiles and ingredients can enhance your taste experience in-flight by counteracting the dulling effects of the cabin environment. This means you get a delicious drink and a better in-flight dining experience — winner-winner, not-so-bland chicken dinner.

Don't despair on that flight, have a drink!

There's something about a mid-flight cocktail to help take your mind off of the fact that your seatmate keeps resting their head on your shoulder. And despite your taste buds being on the fritz, certain cocktails taste just as good — maybe even better — when you're cruising at 30,000 feet.  

Kicking things off is the gin and tonic. While typically bitter on land, the difference in pressure and the dryness of the airplane cabin dries up your nasal passages, which means that your taste buds become less sensitive to subtle flavors. IBP's study also revealed that passengers tasted salty flavors between 20 and 30% less than during regular conditions, while sugary flavors were between 15 and 20% less intense. This decrease in taste sensitivity means that food and drinks can seem less flavorful during a flight — a great explanation as to why the food on your flight has a reputation for being bland. Ultimately, this makes the drink surprisingly smooth and subtly softens its tartness. Add a lime wedge, and you've got the perfect combination. 

Then, there's the Moscow Mule. Made with ginger beer and vodka, the fizzy-spicy combination takes the drink's flavor up a notch. Plus, the touch of ginger is also a great way to soothe an upset stomach in case of a rocky flight or turbulence. Other top contenders that make the most of acidity include mimosas and, for non-drinkers, a classic soda water and lime combo.

When in doubt, order a Bloody Mary

However, the true star of the skies is the Bloody Mary. A zesty cocktail loaded with tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, vodka, and a hint of Tabasco, it's the perfect combination of umami — a savory flavor profile — to wake up your taste buds. Even if you're not a huge fan of the drink back on earth, you'll be happy to hear the cocktail tastes better up in the air because of your altered perception.

This is all thanks to the drink's main ingredient: tomato juice. Paired with the rich, complex taste of the Worcestershire sauce, the umami flavor from both of these elements counterbalances the drink's typical bitterness. So, while the savory flavors are more pronounced, the acidity of its other ingredients decreases and blends smoothly with the overall taste.

Just make sure you drink some water, too. You wouldn't want too much drinking to get you on your flight attendant's bad side!