How to make airline food taste good: Using perception psychology to enhance travel enjoyment

Sensory research shows the reason that airline food might not taste as good as other food is because our brains are confused by the engine noise.

Airline food: dinner on board CX134 from Melbourne to Hong Kong
Dinner on board CX134 from Melbourne to Hong Kong

Just arrived in Hong Kong and had a great flight with Cathay Pacific. Even the food tasted great. This might, however, not necessarily be the case because it objectively did taste very nice, but because I was wearing noise cancelling head- phones.

In a recent paper in the Food Quality and Preference journal it was shown that background sounds unrelated to airline food diminish the taste qualities.1 Research subjects were blindfolded and ate different foods either in silence or while listening to a quiet or loud background white noise. They found that tastes are dampened by noise. Saltiness and sweetness diminished when eating in the presence of loud compared to quiet background noise. Second finding was that food was reported to taste crunchier in the presence of background noise. Lastly, but most importantly, the more the subjects enjoyed the noise, the more the liked the food.

I thus enjoyed my Cathay Pacific meal, bopping away at the sweet sounds of Miles Davis on my noise cancelling headphones.


  1. A.T. Woods et al. (2011) Effects of background noise on food perception, Food Quality and Preference 22(1): 42-47. 

Author: Peter Prevos

Social scientist and engineer who dabbles in magic tricks.

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