The secret of the difference in flavours lies in the alteration that cabin pressurisation produces in our sense of smell, which is intrinsically related to taste.
When we savour food, it is not only taste that matters, but there is also a kind of indirect sense of smell that serves to reaffirm what our taste buds interpret.
According to the president of the Spanish Olfactory Network, Laura López-Mascaraque, pressurised cabins significantly affect our sense of smell. Firstly, the humidity inside the cabins is much lower than outside, causing the nostrils to dry out. Pressure is another factor and, in aircraft, it is lower than on the earth’s surface.
Another factor to consider is stress; for people with a fear of flying, the loss of taste can be intensified, as their entire nervous system is on alert.
Although it varies from person to person, roughly speaking, we can say that 30% of the taste buds “go to sleep” during a flight.