If you’re like me and the thought of getting on an airplane makes you automatically nervous, then you may be the type to plan out every aspect of your trip beforehand, all the way down to what you’re going to eat and drink. Of course, what you put in your body before the trip matters, but once you’re up in the air, you have one very important decision to make: What drink are you going to choose when the flight attendant makes their way to your row? Whether you’re the type to opt for an alcoholic drink or you simply want to stay as hydrated as possible, knowing what drink to order is paramount for a successful flight.
That’s why I’ve decided to do the hard work of ranking the best airplane drinks of all time. Some are obvious choices, while others are less intuitive but equally as delicious. Of course, one drink rises above all the others and snags the top spot on our list—keep reading until the end to find out which beverage you’ll always find me sipping when I’m a mile high.
For when you’re on a long-haul or early-morning flight and need to wake up but don’t want to have to take a trip to the bathroom in the midst of intense turbulence, black tea is the way to go. It has just enough caffeine to give you the jolt of energy you’re after, but it doesn’t contain so much that you’ll feel jittery if you’re already a nervous flier. I love a hot drink on a flight because there’s something about it that just feels comforting, and it’s especially nice after you enjoy an in-flight meal.
Those who get nauseous at even the thought of flying know that ginger ale is a solid in-flight choice. Technically, though, you’re not benefitting much from the stomach-settling qualities of the ginger as much as you’re reaping the benefits of the carbonation. Either way, though, if it makes you feel better, you should go for it. Even though it may not be your soda of choice on a regular basis, when it comes to flying, there’s something about the bubbly, just-slightly sweet drink that hits just right.
If you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck, you might opt for an in-flight cocktail, but there’s something about the white wine that always does it for me. First of all, there’s the fact that I’m lazy and I don’t want to have to mix my own drink when I’m squished into an economy seat between a mother with a baby and a snoring older man. More important is the unique aroma of cheap Pinot Grigio in tiny plastic cup and the fact that I can keep pouring from the bottle to make it feel like I’m having two, three glasses of wine in one go. Unfortunately for me (and for many others out there), red wine can sometimes give me a headache. That’s not always a problem, but it’s definitely something I want to avoid when I’m already dehydrated from flying. Therefore, the white wine is usually my go-to.
Sadly, not every airline offers sparkling water on their flights, but some blessedly do. And when sparkling water is on the drinks menu, I can’t say no. Like ginger ale, sparkling water offers enough carbonation to help settle your stomach (and your nerves) while you’re up in the air. Unlike ginger ale, though, there’s no added sugar, so it’s perfect if you generally like to avoid the sweet stuff. The only downside is that you can only indulge in the small portion your flimsy plastic paper cup will allow. It’s usually worth it to me to buy the exorbitantly priced bottle of the bubbly stuff at a Hudson News before I hop on my flight.
Finally, we come to the most glorious in-flight drink of them all: tomato juice. Do I ever drink tomato juice in my everyday life? Absolutely not. But the second I get in the air, it’s all I can think about: the tang of the tomato, that slight sweetness, the little packet of black pepper or celery salt I can empty into the cup and swirl around with a porous wooden stick. It’s perfect first and foremost because of its texture. It’s just thick enough that it feels substantial, something a little extra to pair with that battered pack of Cheez-Its. Then there’s the flavor: the burst of bright umami that’s novel enough to wake you from the grogginess of an early-morning flight. Take it with vodka, if you must, if you need something to take the edge off of flying. But for ultimate refreshment mid-travel, plain can’t be beat. I mean, even Amelia Earhart claimed her love for tomato juice.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.