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Food for thought – and flying…

A comprehensive survey of what passengers dislike about air travel, and all that it entails, would make interesting reading. Indeed, earlier blogs on this website go some way to establishing a list, with security, delays and luggage problems emerging as candidates for top-of-the-league honours. But what sort of reading would a list of likes about air travel make, I wonder?

Over a longish lifetime of flying – starting with a DC-3 from Heathrow to Guernsey in 1956 – I’ve struggled to reconcile my top like. Especially when the world and his wife appear to take entirely the opposite view….

So what is it about flying that turns me on?

Don’t laugh; it’s the in-flight food! That’s right, the plastic box (when I’m paying and travelling steerage), the tray with ‘real’ cutlery (when it’s a business-class trip), a full silver service meal (when it’s a first-class press launch) or the cordon-bleu pampering (when it’s an executive jet). And while in-flight meals in all four levels of air travel have consistently thrilled my taste buds and satiated my well-developed appetite – I’m a self-confessed foodie – colleagues, friends and family have all, at some time or other, moaned mercilessly about the self-same airline catering.

Why should that be? After all, surely there can’t be that many fussy eaters in my life. And I’m not exactly a gluttonous dustbin. You won’t, for example, catch me eating seafood of any sort thanks to an allergy. And there are some local dishes in the Far East that I avoid at all costs. But I reckon pretty well all airline meals – give or take the odd course that appears suspect – are just what the doctor ordered.

Perhaps it’s my diabetes that makes me consider carefully the contents of any plate put in front of me. Perhaps it’s an inherited trait from my Mum – a school cook for many years and still cooking and baking for herself every day, 25 years after retiring. Perhaps I’m just odd…. But whatever it is, I just can’t wait for the throttles to come back at the height of the climb, the ‘Fasten Seatbelts’ signs to switch off and the cabin crew to start their well-rehearsed routine with refreshments. I’ve got the meal tray down and the gastric juices flowing almost before the curtain snaps open and the trolley and smiling attendant appear, ready to serve me with another airline meal.

The anticipation of what’s on the menu is almost too much to bear. Smells from the galley at 36,000ft don’t seem to be as enticing as they do on the ground, so the guessing game continues right until the moment the meal tray hits the fold-down seat-back table. On posh flights, where a menu is presented before – or just after – take-off, I put it straight into the seat pocket; knowing what’s in store would spoil the enjoyment. And in any case the flowery descriptions – presumably designed to add to the eating experience – are so often naff they aren’t worth reading.

So the meal has arrived and the enjoyment starts even before I tuck in. There’s the analysis of content, to start with. Not too much bulk… ample protein and carbohydrate… sugary items and fruit for energy… and, hopefully, water to keep me hydrated. Yes, I’m a Methodist. But no, that doesn’t mean I can’t drink alcohol. I just choose not to do so while I’m flying. (That dates back to my days as a member of Coventry Aeroplane Club, where the key rule was no booze within 24 hours of flying and no sex or smoking within 25 yards of the aircraft. Or was it the other way round?)

The only exception to my no-drinking rule was on one particular flight from the UK to Australia when, after 22 hours without sleep, a large Bailey’s Irish Cream on ice was called for to ensure I didn’t drop off just as we flew over the Great Barrier Reef.

Of course nothing lasts for ever. And with the arrival of low-cost, no-frills airlines, catering has suffered. Sandwiches in triangular plastic containers, burgers in boxes and a bag of crisps have no appeal as far as I’m concerned. And so, on a recent cheap flight from Coventry to Italy to attend a wedding, the Read family took a picnic.

A great idea – and the grub was really good. The only problem came at the 7.30 a.m. security check where everything had to be unwrapped and sampled. Having just had breakfast, I neither wanted nor needed more food. And security staff were not at all interested in what the nibbling would do to my blood-glucose levels or whether Coronation chicken and salad on home-made granary à la Maison Read was even suitable for consumption at such an unearthly hour of the day. “Just eat it,” was the unceremonious command.

Ah well, the experience at least gave me fodder to contribute to other surveys. Now where’s that one marked ‘What I dislike about flying – security checks’?

Keith Read is a technology writer and flew Cessna 150s for fun when he was younger

 

Comments:

Keith Read is jolly lucky he was allowed to take any food onto a budget flight. That happens not in my corner of the world – Malaysia. But I agree with Keith generally, especially the no-drinking-while-flying bit. Travelling is too much fun to be spoilt by the effects of dehydration and the enhanced tiredness that alcohol can induce, seemingly more so in my case above 30,000ft or whatever the measure is this week.

My main flying these days is by AirAsia, and their in-flight quickie food is quite palatable – even the triangular tuna sarnies. I can always console myself with memories of the oysters and more (sorry Keith) aboard an HS125 I had the privilege to flit around Europe in for a couple of years in the early ‘80s.

Those may have been ‘the days’ for me, but there’s not a lot wrong with today’s more mundane flying either. Next month, Australia. December and it’s LA and beyond … cattle class maybe but both ends reach the destination at the same time.

John Weinthal – Kuala Lumpur


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