Oct 14, 2020

Airline Food To-Go? Go Where?

If you miss those snack packs, you’re in luck. Maybe

By Ed Goldman
While there are many reasons most of us miss plane travel—its ability to connect us with family, to visit exotic lands or to deepen our knowledge about our own country as well as other cultures—some people apparently miss the food.
Let me repeat that. Some people miss airline food.

Airline food, as you know, is the punchline to more retro standup comedy routines than “No, I’m just happy to see you.” 

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Some now-infrequent flyers told the Wall Street Journal last month they miss airline food enough to order it online so that when it arrives, they can fantasize that they’re enroute to somewhere other than their bathroom, living room and bedroom. I guess they miss items like those little hermetically sealed packets of nickel-sized salami slices, a poker chip of cheddar cheese, two Saltine® crackers, two grapes and a bright red plastic knife to complete the decadent snack. Or maybe those ubiquitous bags of peanuts or, if anyone with a peanut allergy was on their flight, pretzels. (To date, and to my limited knowledge, no one’s pretzel allergy has ever grounded a plane.)

Now, if you’ve ever flown on Air France, as I’ve been privileged to do a few times, I must say that those are meals I might consider ordering online. Since I was on long flights, I benefited from being served three complete meals, plus snacks—pâté and crackers, Grey Poupon®, brie and strawberries, as memory serves. Apparently, the airline’s owners feel that if you’re flying far enough away to see the sun rise and set twice through your portal, you require epicurean nourishment.

Even so, I’m sure the experience of enjoying even Air France’s food at home would be dampened by a number of factors, the main one being that at the end of the meal I wouldn’t be landing in Paris. I’d just be heading to the kitchen to do the dishes.
And this harsh reality wouldn’t be mitigated even by having Edith Piaf’s recording of “La Vie En Rose” playing in the background. I know because I’ve tried doing this after having a bowl of Campbell’s Condensed French Onion Soup® for dinner, whose broth tastes remarkably similar to Campbell’s Condensed Beef with Vegetables & Barley Soup® and the company’s not only condensed but also wisely discontinued Campbell’s Manhattan Clam Chowder®.

The focus of the Wall Street Journal article was a couple from Kalamazoo, which they keep in Michigan, who’d been planning a trip to Australia when the quarantine began. But don’t let the quaintness of their hometown— heretofore best known for a songwriter having “a gal” from there—cause a rush to judgment. A disappointed traveler in Indonesia also weighed in.

The newspaper story said the Indonesian guy “bought three meals, which cost about $3.50 each and came with a tray, plastic cutlery and sides.” Yes, that sentence makes it sound as though the sides were made of plastic, as was the cutlery. I’m hoping this is a syntax error, not part of “the sides” ingredient list. 

The reporter adds that this fellow added to his experience “by eating a meal while playing a flight simulator.” Again, I hope this means he played the Xbox game of the same name, not that he turned himself into an actual professional flight simulator, many of which resemble the kind of phone booth Dr. Who uses to travel the universe and Clark Kent used to use to change into Superman (always remembering to wear his underpants on the outside, one of the great enigmas of the DC Superheroes Universe). 

At least one person quoted in the Journal story said something I could relate to. A young man in Vermont, who says he often flew on JetBlue when he was growing up, “bought the JetBlue snack pack as a novelty…but didn’t finish it, saying it wasn’t worth the calories. ‘It lived up to airline food’s reputation of not being very good,’ he said.”

The kicker to all of this? The online retailer of this airline fare is a surplus-food seller called Imperfect Foods. Have you ever heard a better example of truth in advertising? In the meantime, pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon®?

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).