This Iconic Flight Snack Has Been Around Since the 1980s — and It's Still the Best Treat in the Sky

For the frequent fliers and Speculoos stans out there.

Delta Airlines in flight snacks and biscoff cookies
Photo: Courtesy of Delta Airlines

The Biscoff is a small rectangular cookie with a satisfying, caramelized crunch. But it's more than mere confection. It's actually a reliable predictor of how often you park yourself on a plane. If you're seldom to be seen in the sky, you'd be forgiven for your unfamiliarity with the Belgian snack food. If you're a frequent flier, however, it's more ubiquitous than an Oreo. So, here's some food for thought: How did this one sweet biscuit so successfully associate itself with air travel?

More than any other domestic carrier, Delta deserves the credit here. The commercial airliner began serving the Lotus brand of Biscoff in the mid-1980s, before anyone else. In its native Belgium, it's an example of a traditional style of cookie known locally as the Speculoos — made with flour, candy syrup, and cinnamon. But it would have been a novel snack to most American audiences at the time.

Back then, amenities were typically more robust for economy passengers and yet this simple pleasure found an immediate audience. The appeal was understandable: they are bitesized and assertive in texture as well as sweetness, qualities which all appreciate at high altitudes, where our sense of smell and taste can be diminished. You need something punchy to stand out.

They also go great with coffee. In fact, the name "Biscoff," is itself a portmanteau of biscuit and coffee. And despite the longstanding caveats, coffee remains one of the most popular beverages consumed on flights. So offering something purpose-built to be enjoyed alongside a cup of joe afforded an inherent selling point. It wasn't long before Delta would purpose-brand the cookies to make them their own.

"We began serving Biscoff cookies stamped with the Delta logo in the late 1990s," says Mike Henny, managing director of onboard services for Delta Airlines. "[They've become] iconic and are one of our most popular snacks onboard. We serve between 80 to 85 million Biscoff cookies a year, and we have lots of Delta fliers who are enthusiastic fans."

Although Delta remains the only airline offering personalized Biscoffs on board, nowadays all the major legacy carriers stock the cookies in their beverage carts, including United and American. And for some seasoned passengers, a loyalty to the Belgian dessert-maker is more ironclad than to the airlines themselves. In February 2020 (right before we all had far graver concerns to worry about) United replaced its Biscoff service with Oreo Thins. The backlash on social media was so swift and severe that the airline's official Twitter account had to issue a statement assuring fans that it was only a temporary measure. But it might have been too late to stop some fliers from switching allegiances.

Two passengers eating the in flight Delta biscoff cookies
Chris Rank/Courtesy of Delta Airlines

"I fly Delta for those cookies," admits Vicki Loo, a New York-based publicist who travels monthly for work. "If I have to fly United, I don't expect to get them, so my expectations are managed. I don't even call them Biscoff, I call them 'Delta Biscuits.' They literally make my flights more pleasurable."

In 2021, American Airlines had to grapple with a Biscoff supply shortage. Rather than risk the ire of Speculoos stans, the company opted to repackage them in a smaller format with only one per wrapper. In an era where coach seemingly comes with nothing more than complaints, even a modest serving of Biscoff goes far in placating passengers. "I miss the larger serving, but I still get excited whenever they hand me a pack," says travel writer Kevin Gray, a top-tier member of American Airlines' loyalty program. "I'll take anything to occupy my time for a couple minutes, and the cookies are way better than stale pretzels."

For those whose airborne hours have waned during the pandemic era, landing the endearing biscuit on the ground provides a nostalgic connection to that previous life. It's an experience that's easier to deliver now that places like Costco and Amazon offer them for sale this side of TSA security. Elliott Clark was so fond of the bond that he found a way to drink it in — literally.

Biscoff Old Fashioned
Elliott Clark

"I used to travel all the time for work and fell in love with Biscoff," recalls the beverage specialist and influencer who goes by the name @Apartment_Bartender on Instagram. "It truly is better than any other airline snack out there. Being a drinks guy, I sought to turn it into a cocktail. So one day I got some Biscoff coffee beans at their flagship store on Pier 39 in San Francisco. I brewed a fresh cup of coffee and turned it into a syrup. I combined that with Cognac, bourbon, and chocolate bitters. The result was what I call a Biscoff Old Fashioned. It tastes like the air at 35,000 feet — just fresh."

Whether in liquid or solid form, the Biscoff has certainly worked its way into the hearts — and mouths — of routine travelers. Their anticipation of its caramel and cinnamon-laden crunch is Pavlovian, elicited by the in-flight chime signaling the flight has hit cruising altitude. It's been a lengthy journey to this point, more than 30 years in the making. Today it seems like an immutable law of commercial aviation: If a beverage cart is rolling by, it better have Biscoff in tow. And that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

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