Monday, September 24, 2007

Air Food...

My how times have changed.

I don’t know if I remember my first airplane meal. Chances are, it was on a cross-country flight from Boston to Sacramento on a family visit to my grandparents. I think, and maybe my memory is faulty, that I had some sort of chicken dish with steamed vegetables, smothered in gravy.

I didn’t eat it.

I was pretty picky back then and anything with gravy was gross. I passed it off my my younger brother, The Bottomless Pit, he ate it and I would’ve picked the walnuts off of the dessert brownie.

That hot meal, served on a plastic tray covered in half-melted polyurethane is long gone – at least here on American carriers. The way it is now, you’re lucky to get a bag of pretzels (peanuts are too expensive) and a cup of soda.

Last year, I flew to Alaska on what was then my longest-ever flight (check it out on a map – Fairbanks is really freakin’ far away). But, since it was still technically a domestic flight, no food. Just a tiny cup of juice to gargle with and a snack pack for a buck and box containing an apple and a soggy sandwich for five. Blah.

Comedians can complain about it all they want to entertain us and, on occasion, The New York Times can run a short article in the travel section of about the next cutback for travelers and their creature comforts.

And, yeah, it sucks. It means that you’re 7.3 times more likely to sit next to some fat guy chowing down on a stinky double-cheeseburger with the smell of fries wafting over the entire rear cabin. Now that’s the only way to fly!

I tell you what, though, the one good thing about all these cutbacks (no comped meals unless you’re in 1st class and pay-as-you-go munching) is that the quality of food has gotten substantially better.

Today, I’m flying to Orange County with United. On long-haul flights (those over 3 hours), they offer four snack packs, which are basically mini-meals in a handy to-go box. For five bucks each, you can get a nice organic fruit and granola selection, a junk-food box, standard munchies and a protein-packed health snack. Know what? They’re pretty good and reasonably filling (along the lines of one of those NutraSystem meals – enough to satisfy, but not overly so).

[I went with the “RiteBite” which gave me a slice of gouda, a bag of pita chips, a travel-sized jar of humus, six organic crackers, raisins and a small container of lemon-pepper tuna. Surprising assortment, quite tasty. The one negative is that the tuna kind of smells, which doesn’t bother me eating it, but might the passenger next to me.]

The price isn’t so bad, either, considering that before my flight I paid the same amount for a scoop of fruit and nuts from an airport stand – one of those places that charges you 3 bucks for a Vitamin Water, which is roughly the equivalent of paying $250 for a pair of Wranglers.

So, perhaps paying $300 for a flight and then not getting any food blows (couldn’t they wrap the cost of a meal into the flight, by default?), but at least they’re trying to market the stuff they’re schilling. When the food’s fresh, slightly exotic, nutritious and tasty, and when it’s half the price of a warmed-over airport burger, the customer thinks he’s getting what he wants.

That’s good business right there.

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