In-flight Food – Somebody Gets It Right!

It’s been more than a quarter of century since I flew nonstop across the United States from Newark, New Jersey, to Oakland, California, my hometown. I’ve never forgotten that trip for two reasons.

First, it was a newly launched (but short lived) route, the first time that my hometown’s airport, OAK, had nonstop transcontinental service. Second, I had one of the most enjoyable in-flight meals I’ve ever had – in economy class, no less!

The airline, PeopleExpress, has long since gone defunct, a victim – perhaps – of its own success. One of the original low-cost, no frill carriers, it offered ridiculously low fares, usually between cities that were not linked by other airlines. There was nothing in the way of in-flight service except for the bare necessities.

The airline was proving so popular in the Eastern United States that it had a near cult following. Owing to its popularity, it underwent an overly ambitious expansion programme, got in over it head, and went belly up. But I digress . . .

Owing the the relatively long duration of the flight, more than five hours, meals were available – at a price. I decided to buy one. Unlike other airlines, which promise gourmet cuisine and fail to deliver, PeopleExpress offered what I would call “fun food” and succeeded spectacularly.

I remember receiving a tray with a basket full of something that looked suspiciously similar to McDonald’s ever-popular Chicken McNuggets – complete with dipping sauces that came in little seal-topped tubs.

There was an apple and an orange, some kind of juice, some water, a piece of Godiva chocolate, and some cheese and crackers. The perfect in-flight meal!

Hong Kong to Bangkok

Compare that to what I was served on my recent flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok. Considering that I picked the flight with the lowest priced ticket, I guess I should not have expected much, but I must say, I have never sat in a more uncomfortable airline seat in my life.

There was no leg room whatsoever and the seat had about as much padding what you would find on a school bus. Thank goodness, it was only a two and one-half hour flight.

The flight attendants on this airline, whose name I will not reveal because I don’t want to be sued, were downright glamourous so despite the uncomfortable seats I did have some expectations as to the impending meal.

The cellophane noodle and shrimp salad was actually quite tasty, raising my expectations yet more. Polishing that off in hurry, I quickly peeled off the tin cover of the main course. I was confronted by overcooked rice of a revolting hue, a few chunks of dried out chicken, and some limp snow peas that were a few hours past their eat-by date.

The only utensils were a pair of chopsticks, and about two-thirds of the passengers on the flight didn’t appear to know how to use them. I did, but as I attempted to wield the two little wooden sticks, my elbow kept wedging itself in between the ribs of the gentleman sitting to my right.

I’m no snob when it comes in in-flight meals – at least not when I’m traveling cattle class. I don’t expect much when I’m 40,000 feet in the air. But what I don’t understand is this: why do they insist on trying to serve haute cuisine when all I really want is diversion from the boredom of the flight? I’m already uncomfortable so please don’t needlessly complicate my life by serving something that is difficult to manage.

How about something simple, tasty, and – most of all! – easy to eat? Surely, it doesn’t take a three-star Michelin chef to figure out that stir-fired vegetables need to migrate quickly from wok to table. They go quickly limp and should never be reheated. So please don’t include them on in-flight menus.

Hua Hin to Koh Samui

After checking out of the the Rest Detail Hotel in Hua Hin, I was driven to Bangkok International Airport, where I boarded a Bangkok Airways flight to Koh Samui, where I will be spending the next two weeks.

Considering the flight’s short duration – about 50 minutes – and the fact that it was mid-afternoon, I wasn’t expecting anything more than a soft drink, water, or perhaps the proverbial coffee, tea, or milk.

The moment the fasten your seat belts sign went out, a flight attendant swept down the aisle, passing out cold beverages. She made a second trip a few minutes later, handing out chicken sandwiches. A simple enough affair: fresh croissants slathered with mayonnaise housing three slices of chicken together with lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. Simple, but delicious . . .

I learned two things on this flight. First, it is possible to serve an in-flight meal that doesn’t annoy as long as you follow the KISS! principle (keep it simple, stupid!). Second, 50 minutes is about as long I care to be stuck in the economy class section of an airplane.

Copyright: Michael Taylor

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One Reply to “In-flight Food – Somebody Gets It Right!”

  1. Back in the 1970s, I ran a small Girls Club. One of the girl’s mothers worked for an airline food service and she invited us for a field trip. Wow!! Those were the good old days of real in-flight food. Now I have to take trips to faraway places for many hours in order to receive meals, decent or otherwise. In my experience in today’s flying, the chances of getting better meals is on non-U.S. airlines. Sometimes the more obscure the airline, the better the food.

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