The Truth About The Food Served On Air Force One

The president of the United States of America is often referred to as the leader of the free world for a reason. Even if they don't technically run the entire globe, the virtually limitless power possessed by the president means there's at least a modicum of truth to that informal title. Of course, with great power comes great perks — like your own personal private jet known the world over as Air Force One.

Now, the excessively-customized Boeing 747-200B airplane isn't technically one of a kind, since the Air Force maintains two identical, fully-customized planes capable of transporting the president whenever necessary. But given the three-storied jet features everything the commander-in-chief may need when off the ground — including an executive suite, a conference/dining room, and an ever-present doctor (ready to perform surgery, if needed) — it's easy to surmise Air Force One's culinary capabilities rival any land-based kitchen.

The Air Force One menu has evolved since John F. Kennedy first utilized a top-of-the-line private plane in 1962 as "the president's office in the sky," as The White House describes it. For those eager to learn what's on the president's Air Force One plate, keep reading as we reveal the truth about the food served on Air Force One.

The menu is mainly set by the current president

When a new person is elected to the U.S. government's highest office, there are a number of necessary procedures required to ensure a smooth transition from one presidential administration to the next. Unsurprisingly, this includes a general reset on the overall food selection within the White House — and on Air Force One — by rearranging the executive menu to suit the current president's taste.

Of course, overseeing the food served on Air Force One may not be nearly as pressing as, say, matters of national security facing a newly sworn-in president. Along those lines, we can't imagine any sitting president has ever had the time (or the interest) to personally dictate every aspect of what food is available on the plane. However, it's undeniable much of the menu on the president's airborne quarters consists of items personally preferred by the person in charge.

All meals appear to be served on presidential china

The bar for meeting presidential standards in just about any context is extraordinarily high — and as evidenced by the 4,000 square feet of ultra-luxurious accommodations found on (both) Air Force One(s). The glitz and glamor of the presidency extends to the sky, as well. With that in mind, it's no wonder the meals served aboard the plane aren't tossed onto paper plates or foisted on guests in chintzy cardboard boxes. Rather, just as it would be in the White House, the food served on Air Force One appears to be plated on genuine presidential china.

We can't say with absolute certainty that Air Force One exclusively uses fine china — the sort adorned with the official Seal of the President of the United States — when providing meals to the president and their guests. But seeing as we haven't found any evidence to dispute that notion, either, we think it's fair to surmise presidential china is the norm on Air Force One — all the pictures we could find showed the food being served on these fancy dishes.

Everyone pays for their food on Air Force One

The basic economic principle that there is no such thing as a free lunch in life is fairly straightforward. After all, if an offer seems too good to be true, well ... there's a strong chance that it is. Unfortunately, this extends to the food served on Air Force One. In fact, you're apt to receive a hefty dining bill from the U.S. military for any (and all) food you consume while aboard Air Force One — because everyone pays for their meals on the presidential plane.

It's not entirely clear why this policy was originally implemented. But while we can empathize with those low-income earners working for the White House who are forced to travel with the president — and pay for food they might not normally order (given the price) — what's the alternative?

We live in a democracy, after all — one where U.S. taxpayers aren't expected to foot the bill for every extravagance provided to those in the president's orbit. In that sense, it's hard to categorize the cost of Air Force One meals as anything other than an individual person's responsibility. 

The meals are prepared ahead of time and vacuum-sealed at Joint Base Andrews

When you take into account the fact that no airline meal is wholly prepared mid-flight, it's not surprising to discover the food served on Air Force One is cooked prior to takeoff as well. But some random kitchen or restaurant won't suffice when it comes to preparing food for the president of the United States. Rather, the food served on Air Force One is largely prepared ahead of time at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County, Maryland.

Joint Base Andrews was selected as the food prep center for Air Force One for a good reason. After all, it's where both Air Force One jets are stationed whenever waiting for the president's call, so it's merely a matter of convenience and circumstance. Additionally, the chefs tasked with preparing (then vacuum-sealing) the food eventually served on Air Force One aren't random military recruits, but highly-trained culinary craftspeople.

Of course, once the plane's wheels are off the ground, a pair of fully-stocked kitchen galleys allows the staff to finish each frozen dish to perfection — but only after it's been premade at the military's base ahead of time.

Air Force One is capable of serving up to 100 people at one time

It's clear by now (we hope) that flying on Air Force One is unlike any other experience available to 21st-century humans. But not every aspect of the president's private plane is all that different from the average airplane ride. After all, just as your standard cross-country flight is able to feed 100 or more passengers while in the air, Air Force One is capable of feeding up to 100 people at any given moment, as well.

Air Force One's ability to simultaneously feed so many members of the president's often enormous entourage is a bit more sophisticated than what United or JetBlue is capable of. That's not a knock on any publicly available airline, of course — it's simply a testament to the unrivaled capabilities of the president's plane.

Given the additional fact that Air Force One is known to offer fine-dining level food that would put the average airplane meal to shame, its ability to simultaneously serve so many passengers is an impressive feat. Then again, would anyone expect anything else?

The food is drastically better than what's served aboard Air Force Two (at least recently)

The role of vice president tends to be a relatively thankless one within the hierarchy of presidential administrations. But the position obviously requires more than just faithfully standing behind the real boss (awaiting the day they're able to ascend above their veep stature) and breaking ties in the Senate. Still, the vice president simply can't measure as high as the president — a fact emphasized by the generally lackluster meals offered on Air Force Two in comparison to Air Force One.

Interestingly enough, it appears the supposedly inferior food served on Air Force Two – the name of the private plane used to transport the vice president of the United States — isn't a longstanding problem for the number two person in the executive branch. The food on Al Gore's plane, for instance, included luxurious fare like lobster. But for whatever reason, the grub served to the current (as of 2023) vice president, Kamala Harris, and her staff has been a step below what's offered on Air Force One.

Staff are not allowed to bring their own food on Air Force One

Knowing each and every person who eats on Air Force One is required to pay for their meal — with no input on menu options or selections based on price — you'd think some White House staff would prefer to pack their own lunch to save a buck or two. Yet the rules for individuals working in, quite literally, the highest levels of the U.S. government aren't the same as someone flipping burgers at McDonald's. So while the average person can pack their own meal before work, people traveling on Air Force One aren't allowed to bring their own food on board.

Presumably instilled to minimize security risks while the president of the United States flies, it's difficult to credibly argue against this food rule for Air Force One. After all, there are simply too many potentially negative outcomes to consider if each and every guest had free rein to bring anything they wanted onto the airplane food-wise.

We do feel for those less-than-wealthy Air Force One guests forced to choose between paying an extravagant bill or simply not eating at all while aboard. But we can also understand the rationale behind this policy — and wouldn't expect it to change any time soon.

The cost of meals can quickly add up for White House staff

Since anyone who flies on Air Force One isn't given the option of choosing the food they ingest (or comparing prices beforehand), it's tough to know how much you may end up being charged for a mid-air presidential meal until the bill arrives. Yet the generally exquisite dining options prepared for the sitting president are never going to be budget-friendly, and the cost of meals eaten aboard Air Force One can overwhelm one's bank account in a hurry if they aren't careful.

If a person prefers to simply not eat while flying for hours on end, we suppose that's an option for any White House staff unwilling to spend excessive cash. But if you'd prefer not to be that guy — or decide to eat because you're hungry (it happens) — it's hard to avoid the fact it'll cost a small fortune after enough trips (and meals).

As one former White House staff person told Politico in 2023, "sometimes it's a Philly cheesesteak," which isn't necessarily cost prohibitive, but other times it's "filet mignon, which is going to be a little bit more." The costs can add up to $1,000 a year.

Air Force One features two fully stocked galleys -- minus a deep fryer

The food on Air Force One may be prepared at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland prior to departure, but that doesn't mean the meals are simply thrown into a microwave and then tossed at guests after they've boarded. After all, presentation matters when it comes to all things presidential — food included, of course — and it often takes a bit of finalizing in one of the plane's pair of food prep galleys before a meal's ready to consume.

You may assume the kitchen galleys found on a private, fully-customized plane — the sort designed for the president — come with everything imaginable. And, to be sure, there are virtually no limits to what can be gloriously reheated aboard Air Force One ... with the notable exception of fried food.

While there are numerous cooking appliances in each galley, there's no deep fryer to be found on Air Force One. We wish we had more information about this somewhat bizarre absence (it's purportedly as a safety precaution). But no matter the rationale, if you can forgive the president for serving soggy french fries, you're unlikely to encounter any other issues with the galleys on Air Force One.

The meals tend to be fairly extravagant

There's no shortage of politicians obsessed with fast food — a list of quick-service fans that includes several U.S. presidents. Of course, while Joe Biden loves himself a nice Dairy Queen ice cream cone whenever possible, the meals prepared and served on Air Force One tend to hew a bit closer to haute cuisine. In other words, the food served on Air Force One is usually quite extravagant in terms of quality, preparation, and ingredients used.

There may be no better overall airplane menu than the top-drawer fare found on Air Force One (a bold proclamation, we know). Whether it's blue cheese burgers topped with garlic aioli, filet mignon, or chicken cordon bleu, the various menu options prepared and served on Air Force One would never disappoint any self-respecting foodie. The food tends to run a bit on the indulgent side, too — working at the White House is a stressful job, and the people on Air Force One aren't necessarily looking to unwind with health food.

Air Force One is stocked with enough food to prepare thousands of meals

The number of contingency plans on Air Force One — as in the sheer volume of capabilities of the aircraft responsible for shuttling the top-ranked member of the Air Force (hence the name) — is staggering to consider. And while it's immensely challenging (and likely impossible) to know everything that's feasible on the plane, there is one area of interest for our purposes — namely, the fact it's stocked with enough food to prepare up to 2000 meals on a single flight.

The ability to serve an ungodly amount of food during a single trip isn't what makes Air Force One so impressive, of course, though it is one of the more staggering facts we came across. Yet it's not as though Air Force One is ever set to actually cook and serve 2000 meals at once. Rather, as one Reddit user speculated, the excessive amount of food kept on Air Force One is to ensure the plane can stay in the air for up to seven days if necessary.

The president's spouse may be the only person with more influence on the menu than them

It's clear as day the president is the most powerful person within the U.S. government — even if they don't necessarily hold that same title within their own marriage. It's sort of obvious, then, why the first lady may be the one person with just a smidge more authority than the actual president when it comes to what food is served on Air Force One.

In particular, the incorporation of healthy meals often appeared to be driven by the president's spouse rather than the big cheese themself. As long-time CBS White House reporter Mark Knoller told The New York Times in 2014, "You could tell by the food" whether Hillary Clinton was on board Air Force One during her husband Bill's time as the chief U.S. executive — because it would be far less nutritionally-detrimental across the board.

We're sure that this specific aspect of the food served on Air Force One depends on the person in office (and the nature of their marital relationship). But we'd still be shocked if any president entirely dismissed their spouse's food choices in the past ... or in the future.