Air travel can be pretty dismal. Overworked flight attendants, grouchy passengers, Disneyland-esque lines at security—the whole experience can make even the calmest personalities embrace their inner Jekyll. But while most of what happens at the airport or on the plane is out of your control, there are a few things you can do to make your trip a lot less stressful, my favorite of which is the BYO-Picnic.
While your seatmates are sitting eating bags of peanuts meant for munchkins, you could be feasting on a delicious spread that requires minimal preparation but will make a huge difference in your onboard experience. Plus, you’ll save yourself a ton of cash—it’s shocking how much they charge for food and drinks at airports!
Prepare yourself now for the jealous looks from your seatmates! (And perplexed looks if you decide to do an iPhone photo shoot, like me!)
For an early morning flight, I like to pack a small serving of homemade granola and then pick up some coffee or tea with a yogurt at the airport to eat on the plane. Other options that work well:
Banana or zucchini bread
Fresh fruit salad
Croissant or muffin from your favorite local bakery
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Bagel with cream cheese (especially if you’re flying back from NY!)
Lunch or Dinner
This is where it gets exciting. There are so many creative meals you can put together that will travel well, and make your flight just that much more fun. I know, I’m pushing it a little here, but when you’re stuck in a shoebox for five hours, you’ve got to appreciate the little things!
Sandwiches are usually my first choice because they travel so well. I made myself a brie, salami, and arugula sandwich on ciabatta bread for my last flight and it was delish. A burrata, prosciutto, and basil combo also works well, or try goat cheese with roasted veggies and cracked black pepper for a wonderful vegetarian option.
If you want to add a little more pizzazz to your airplane picnic, try out one of these options:
Spiffed-Up Pasta: So, this is a bit out there, but you can reheat your pasta using hot water on the flight and have a warm meal onboard. If you’re not into onboard cooking though, not to worry! A simple caprese salad with chopped tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella will work really when thrown together with some rigatoni and eaten a few hours later. Another delicious option is to cook some penne and throw in a creamy goat cheese and a handful of spinach after you’ve drained it. The heat from the pasta will melt the cheese and wilt the spinach, and it’s wonderful eaten at room temperature.
Panko Breaded Chicken: Anytime I make this for dinner I always make some extra for the next day—it’s just as good cold!
Panzanella: You’d want to make this the morning of the flight so the bread doesn’t get too soggy, but it’s a great way to use up leftover veggies in your fridge.
Charcuterie Plate: Pack up some salami, prosciutto, and different types of cheeses and serve with crackers or crusty bread. It will taste even better if you add some mixed olives and dried cherries to serve alongside.
Tortilla Wraps: Grab a burrito-sized wrap (it's the easiest to roll) and wrap up whatever you think sounds good together the morning of your flight. I like to do mine with with hummus, avocado, sliced turkey, and Dijon mustard; or chicken breast, black beans, Mexican cheese blend, and salsa; or romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese, and chopped olives.
It’s always good to have a few snacks with you—I like to make a homemade trail mix with Marcona almonds, pistachios, dried cherries, and M&Ms, and then I throw in a few Kind bars and an apple or banana. Other options are:
Frozen Grapes: They’ll defrost by the time you eat them, and there’s nothing better than cold grapes!
Deviled Eggs: Yes, these will require a bit more prep work beforehand, but they travel well when packed in a small Tupperware and are great for a protein punch mid-flight.
Baby Bell Cheese or String Cheese
Crudités: Chop up some carrots, celery, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower and serve with your favorite dip (in a 3-ounce container that you’ve stored in a clear Ziploc bag to get through security, of course!)
Hummus & Pita: Place hummus in a small 3-ounce container and store in a clear Ziploc bag.
Squares of Really Excellent Chocolate
Pre-Peeled Orange: Place in a small Tupperware so it doesn’t get smooshed.
Homemade Cookies: Props if you bring a few extra for your seatmates!
Airplane Picnic Essentials
Water: Make sure you pick up a big bottle of water to stay hydrated throughout your flight.
Lots of Napkins: It can get messy onboard, even when you’re sitting in 17 inches of space!
Plastic Ziploc: You’ll need somewhere to put your trash so you don’t just stuff it in the seatback in front of you.
Emergen-C’s: Since you’re essentially sitting in a giant Petri dish of coughing, ill people, you’ve got to try to be proactive and fend off the germs!
Tea: The tea onboard is never very good, so I like to throw in a few of my own.
Need further inspiration? Check out one of my favorite articles by Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52—even though it was written over 10 years ago, it still makes me laugh and pushes me to try new and delicious combos for my flights.
Tell me, what airplane picnics do you like to pack when you fly?
Photos courtesy of Niki Lowry.