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An Englishman In New York: Airline Food

...After take-off BA present you with a lovely little menu card, detailing the choices for lunch and which also indicates the type and timing of the afternoon tea to be served about an hour before landing. And what a little tea it was; sandwiches, a buttered scone, strawberry jam and clotted cream. Absolutely delightful...

David Thomasesson mourns the sad decline in the tastiness of airline food.

Do visit David's Web site http://www.britoninnewyork.com/

Donít you just wish we could go back to the ďromance of flyingĒ days? You know, youíve seen films of early passenger flights. The suitable attired ladies and gentlemen, because in those days they were the only ones who could afford to fly, would step into the cabin; the gentleman would allow the lady the window seat, take time to carefully place his fedora on the parcel shelf above his seat, sit back, relax, perhaps light a cigarette, and enjoy a pre-flight cocktail.

Ah, sad to say, those days are long gone. Boarding a plane today is like waiting for the sales to start on Black Monday; everyone jostles for position, you donít know anyone, and you look like you just got out of bed. And the smells... Best not go there.

Anyway, I canít actually remember the details of my first airline meal, only that I wore a smug grin from the sheer pleasure of eating aloft whilst crossing the Alps on my way to Turkey. You may recall that in an earlier time, Hannibal crossed the Alps riding Dumbo whilst I dear reader did likewise in a Jumbo. I repeated that trip twice, each time still feeling a childish pleasure in the experience. Wanting to work abroad, following my qualification as a chartered accountant and the listless feeling of wanting something else to happen in the world, found me in 1985 on my way to Barbados to start a two year contract with my former English employer.

Iíve hit the big time, a transatlantic flight, but being a three-time flying journeyman began to regard myself as a seasoned traveler. Whatís more, my trip required a shuttle-flight from Manchester and a change of terminal at Heathrow. No problems at all, Iím a World Traveler now as BA used to pompously describe my section of the bus, what you Americans call Coach.

Now, one of the little treats of a daytime flight on British Airways to the Caribbean was the courtesies, those little extraís that try to lessen the ďare we there yetĒ feeling. It canít really of course, but every little helps on an eight or so hour flight. After take-off BA present you with a lovely little menu card, detailing the choices for lunch and which also indicates the type and timing of the afternoon tea to be served about an hour before landing. And what a little tea it was; sandwiches, a buttered scone, strawberry jam and clotted cream. Absolutely delightful. Now this is flying I thought, canít wait to do this again.

Flights back to England are overnight from the Caribbean, so on my return flight I was pleasantly surprised to find that the toy breakfast included some scrambled eggs, little pork sausages, mushrooms and tomato. Perhaps they ran out of black pudding, I didnít get any, but it wasnít worth making a fuss. Not the English way you see.

Whatís the point, well Iíll tell you. Airline food has come a long way. Yes it has. A long way down since those heady days. A.Long.Way.Down.

So why do they bother any more one wonders. Today, when asked if Sir is eating with us, the choices are Yes or No. It used to be chicken or beef, just like a wedding reception but without the glamour. Now it will be chicken or pasta; beefís gone the way of free food and empty airline seats.

Today, short hops in the US barely warrant peanuts, those silly little pretzel things, and free drinks (paid for alcohol excepted). And on the subject of nut products you may have noticed stories of allergen products on airlines and whether or not these should be banned. Well, the percentage of adults or children with nut allergies who will also react violently and require medical attention is very small. According to Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, an internal medicine doctor and professor at Harvard Medical School, no more than 150 people die in the United States from serious allergic food reactions per year. Thatís right, per year. So at the risk of offending an extremely small minority, how about this; if you are allergic, take some responsibility for your actions, you have a brain use it, read the labels, just say no. Simple. End of.

No, if there is any food on the plane, itís more likely to be a cardboard snack biscuit, a cheese and cracker package that wouldnít be out of place on a third world airline (to which I can attest), or a sandwich. And what is it about airline sarnies. They appear to have been thrown together, sat on and stored very cold, a bit like your typical cabin crew perhaps. They are so anemic looking, the filler barely discernible and usually transparent, is that ďcheeseĒ? And a limp slice of tomato, just for color you understand.

Itís the bean-counters of course, and basic economics. The airlines have to reduce the costs. They screwed the pilots out of their lavish contracts, the cabin crew survives on gossip and those little liquor bottles, so why should passengers expect a better deal. Average fares have just not kept up with the increase in operating costs, principally the price of jet fuel which has literally risen many fold over the last 15-20 years. The average cost of food provided free on an average domestic flight is only about $2 per person, a very small percentage of the price of any flight today.

But, somehow, I donít think the airlines have quite thought this through.

Consider this. In allowing, nay encouraging even, passengers to pack their own lunch so to speak, coach cabin has been converted into an aromatic smorgasbord of dubious pleasure. We now have the spectacle of flyers charging down the aisle, carrying pizzas, donuts, hot dogs, burgers, huge drinks, all of which have to be stowed somewhere. At an appropriate time this cornucopia of chow will be opened up and consumed to the consternation, delight, and even envy of fellow passengers. And just like in a restaurant, you always want what your neighbor decided to eat, right?

This is not a good thing. Think about it, from a system of forced feeding, standard container sizes, coffee cups, and dinky little wine bottles, all of which can be packaged back into those nice little trolleys, the potential for greater and unwieldy garbage has surely increased.

But perhaps help is at hand, the canny traveler has two additional choices to consider, Kosher or vegetarian meals.

I am absolutely convinced that Kosher meals are a better deal than the standard fare served to the rest of us in cattle class. Two reasons; they are served first, and they look bigger. Havenít you noticed this? And when the passengers get them they always peer at the packaging and turn up their faces. Never quite sure if they are pre-judging the food or itís not their favorite Kosher symbol. Who knows? So next time I think Iíll put in for a Kosher meal, see what itís like. Mind you, bit of a bummer having to wear those hair curls, shirt tassels and funny hats, but it might be worth it. Just donít ask me to drop my pants to prove it!

So, how about a vegetarian meal? I think that the days of nut cutlets are long gone. The fruit may be fresher, and besides there isnít much meat in airline meals anymore, so it could be a smart choice. Or not.

Maybe you are right. But you know, I donít dislike airline food so long as it doesnít consist of stupid little snacks, and other junk products. Letís face it, it gives a little frisson of excitement, the thought of something to do, eat and drink. And it helps to pass the time, and keeps the cabin crew running up and down the aisle. And thereís nothing wrong with that, unless theyíre American Airlines girls, ahem, 50 year old girls.

Going forward it is clear that a new rating system should be introduced for all airline food. This way there would be no surprises. These are my suggestions:

Fresh, Was fresh, Edible, Inedible, Dog food, Dog wonít eat it, Garbage

Happy eating!

Check this out before you go, a hilarious letter from a disgruntled Virgin Airline passenger


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