This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Pilots are humans just like passengers, so they need to eat during the flight as well. But what do they eat?

Commercial airline pilots do eat the same meals and food that is available to the passengers. Most flights and airlines offer the pilots and passengers a slew of meal options during flight. Most airlines also have a rule that both pilots cannot eat the same meal to prevent both from getting sick.

As a passenger, your food options are typically fairly limited while you’re flying. But what about the pilots? Do they eat the same food as passengers? In this article, you’ll learn what pilots eat during the flight and when they find the time to do so. You’ll also learn the interesting reason why both pilots are not allowed to eat the same meal and we’ll give you a quick lesson on pilots and the alcohol being served during the flight.

As you scour the internet to figure out what pilots eat during the flight and if they get more options than the passengers, of course you want to find accurate information. And here at SkyTough, we use our own personal expertise in the field as well as input from other aviation experts and pilots from all over. This ensures that everything you read is as accurate as possible.

Table of contents


What Do Pilots Eat While They’re Flying?

During most of the longer domestic and especially international flights, airlines offer passengers a slew of meal options to choose from. Of course the food isn’t typically five-star restaurant quality or anything like that. But airline food can actually be pretty good, much better than many people think or give them credit for.

That said, do the pilots get additional options, or are they saddled with the same meal choices that the passengers get?

Pilots are actually offered the same kind of food that the passengers get. When it comes to airlines and meals, pilots are not offered any sort of preferential treatment over the passengers.So there is no secret kitchen and master chef up there on the flight deck that’s cooking up wagyu steaks with truffle sauce for the pilots!

The only thing that pilots might have a bit more access to than the average passenger is a few extra snacks here and there if they’re hungry. The pilots can grab an extra cookie or a bag of peanuts from the food cart if they get a little hungry during the flight, but passengers can usually ask for an extra snack as well without too much resistance.

Let’s take a look at the types of meals that pilots and passengers have access to during a flight. The food options will of course differ from airline to airline and even from flight to flight (especially international vs domestic flights). But these are some of the most common generic meals that both passengers and pilots can choose from even tens of thousands of feet in the air:

  • Sandwiches
  • Salads
  • Fruit and cheese
  • Chicken and vegetables
  • Pasta with sauce
  • Specific international meals depending on the  airline

So long story short, pilots do eat the same food that passengers eat, but when do they find the time to eat while flying an aircraft full of potentially hundreds of people?

When Do Pilots Eat During Flight?

When you’re a passenger on an aircraft, it can feel like you have nothing but time. That’s the very reason that some people dislike flying so much because it can just seem like endless boredom sitting in a seat. But the pilot is always busy up there in the cockpit, right? It’s probably hard for them to really find the time to put down the controls, grab a fork, and eat their dinner.

The truth is, pilots have nearly as much time as passengers do while they’re flying a plane. Of course, pilots have to stay alert and ready to act at all times, but the fact is that modern autopilot systems do most of the flying for them once the plane is airborne and heading towards the destination. So while the plane is being handled by the computer, pilots have ample time to chow down on whatever meal they’re eating and fill their bellies.

Even if autopilot is not being used, it is only required that one pilot remains at the controls at all times. Note: one pilot must remain at the controls at all times even if autopilot is being used. But as long as one pilot is flying the plane, the other one is free to get some rest, go to the bathroom, and, of course, eat their meals.

Are Both Pilots Allowed To Eat The Same Meal?

Although food and meal options can sometimes be fairly limited up there in the skies, you’ll likely find that there are pretty much always more than just one option. Part of the reason for this (outside of just passenger satisfaction) is so that the pilots are able to eat different meals from one another.

While this isn’t a federal law under the Federal Aviation Regulations or anything, most airlines — and even flight crews themselves — follow this rule. But why is this?

On most typical commercial flights, there are two pilots: the Captain and the First Officer. Both of them are qualified to fly the plane together or on their own, which is why one pilot is able to catch some shut eye or eat their dinner as long as the other pilot is still seated at the controls ready to take over at all times.

But typically no other members of the flight crew are able to fly the aircraft, so it’s imperative that at least one of the pilots remains coherent at all times. That’s why they’re fed different meals. If somehow there is a bad batch of food, imagine some spoiled chicken or fish, for example, then both pilots would not be subjected to the effects.

If the bad food were to cause food poisoning or something similar, then only one of the pilots would be potentially incapacitated and unable to perform their duties. The other pilot who didn’t eat the bad food would be able to continue flying the plane and get everyone safely on the ground at either the next available runway or the final destination.

Can Pilots Drink Alcoholic Beverages During Flight?

This likely goes without saying for most people, but the answer is a resounding no. Pilots absolutely cannot drink while flying the plane, even if autopilot is actually controlling the aircraft. On that same note, even if the Captain is flying, for example, the First Officer cannot have a drink during flight even if they aren’t actually flying the planes themselves.

To take the question a step further when it comes to pilots and consuming alcohol, they actually can’t drink anything for 8 hours preceding the flight. So unlike passengers that get to go to the airport bars during any layovers or before their flight leaves, pilots can’t partake in anything like that while they are 8 hours from flight time. That said, they certainly can’t drink while they’re actually on the plane!