For your in-flight entertainment….

I’m writing this at about 35,000 feet in the air somewhere above a “square state” on my way to San Francisco. What other venue would be more appropriate for me to write a post?

This has already been an eventful experience. My sweetie donated his miles to me so that we could see each other in San Francisco. Sometimes using frequent flyer miles can make for some strange detours. I had to go from Chicago to San Francisco via St. Louis. It doesn’t make sense from a routing standpoint, but I’ll take the flights where I can: It’s two flights for one way! Yes, I think this is cool. Pathetic, I know. Does anybody like to connect?

Anyway, I’m heading to my gate for my United Express (operated by GoJet) flight. I notice the agent working the gate. She looks SO familiar. It hit me like a bolt out of the blue. IT’S SANDY! We worked together all those years ago at American. We had lots of fun together. Sandy was my day-trip buddy! I took my first non-rev with her. We had day-trips to Montreal, Minneapolis, New Orleans and more. It was always a gigglefest working together. Sandy is one of the fondest of my fond memories of my American Airlines era. After our last layoff she applied with United and moved from terminal three to one. Why didn’t I think of that!

We even had to go through the hell that was training at the “Charm Farm” in Dallas together. Sandy had to complete the grooming course! She came out of the class with her head hung low. She whispered to me that she looked “like a drag queen!” Sadly, she did.

Hugs, giggles and more were gushed at the gate when we realized who we were. It was a few glorious moments of connecting with our mutual history. Sandy brought the departure paperwork onboard and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. It was a sweet moment I won’t soon forget.

The flight leaves the gate right on time. The crew announces that there will be a free Coca Cola products beverage service. The flight attendant gives me a sly conspiratorial smile and asks me what I would “really” like. I say “vodka”? Apparently the booze is only offered in the tiny first-class cabin as the flight is so short that running credit cards in coach would take too long.

Long story short, those lovely ladies made sure that those cute little airline bottles were never less than half empty. It’s amazing how much vodka I can swill in 45 minutes! I love being considered “industry,” which Sandy arranged. Part of me is desperate to be real industry again. It could also be all the vodka.

My connection in St. Louis was flawless. I checked with the very young gentleman working my departure about getting a window closer to the front. All that was available was any exit row aisle. I rarely give up a window seat. However it’s nighttime here in seat 21D anyway. I was struck by the fact that all the staff at the gates in St. Louis looked liked kindergarten graduates. I guess that job is for the young. So what do I miss more? My youth or my job with American? Since I like myself a lot better at 45 than 25 it must be the job.

I had enough time to leave security and see the main terminal. It was designed by Minoru Yamasaki almost 60 years ago. The sweeping lines and bright areas have been preserved – a good thing.

I had a quick, ridiculously expensive sandwich and beer. The flight left the gate right on time. So here I sit. I simply love the whole atmosphere of being on an aircraft. The drone of the engines. The takeoff and climb thrill me. Seeing the earth sink away as we take to the heavens never stops fascinating me. It always seams like some kind of minor miracle that I am now speeding through the stratosphere, which everybody is taking for granted as though they were riding on the subway.

Part of the flying experience is an in-flight meal. I bought the soba noodle chicken salad. It was actually quite tasty. It was bigger and better than a lot of “free” coach meals I’ve had placed in front of me.

I got to reconnect, however briefly, with an old friend and coworker. I allowed myself more nostalgia than usual while flying. Getting the “insider” extra-special service was a nice added bonus.

Assuming my bag is on the belt when I land, this is going to be one of my best travel days in a long time.*

We are beginning to descend. I need to stow all my iDevices along with my bittersweet memories.

Here’s a toast to you Sandy!

(*For some reason that even United could not  explain, my bag was placed on the later non-stop flight from Chicago. My bag arrived almost two hours after I did. Thanks for the crappy denouement!)

“It’s the same dog food in coach or first class. In first class it just looks nicer.” – An honest airline employee.

So you’re wedged into a tiny space traveling just below the speed of sound and miles above the ground in air that is too thin to breathe. The fact that anybody would expect a meal here sounds preposterous. Yet airlines started feeding passengers since the early days of air travel. We once expected to be fed on even the shortest of flights, and meals in the stratosphere can range from extravagant to inedible. Mostly, these days it’s more like…

Meals, what meals? Nobody serves them anymore or they make you pay. If you get a second bag of peanuts you’ve scored! Airline meals still exist and are usually part of the ticket on transoceanic flights. However the flights that don’t have meal service or have the buy-on-board options are getting longer and longer.

Once upon a time even domestic airlines competed on good catering, even in coach. Midwest Express and Kiwi Airlines were the most recent examples. Both are long dead. The great catering didn’t get more people on board because the only thing most short- and medium-haul passengers care about is spending as little money as possible. And to the airline, cost per passenger trumps everything. Saving a few cents multiplied by the thousands of meals a large carrier might have to provide every day can lead to huge cost savings.

Now, when you do get food, whether or not you actually want to eat what is put on the tray before you is another question altogether. Beyond the logistics issues, meals must be palatable to passengers from around the world, which explains why they are often so bland. IMG_1656

In the business- or first-class cabins you get many more options and the food starts tasting and looking like something you might want to eat. Here the airlines do compete with each other. There usually is a constant flow of liquor and snacks, but even in these cabins airlines are being forced to cut back.

Over the years I’ve had dreadful meals. Others have been comparable to fine dining. It’s pretty much a hit or miss proposition. I learned to love caviar when I worked for American. The most satisfying meals I’ve had were on long-haul flights to Europe or Asia, the best example being on Korean Airlines when I flew to Seoul. After two weeks of eating local cuisine, my German craving for protein kicked in big time so I ordered the filet. The attendant asked me how I would like my filet cooked. I requested medium-rare. To my utter shock and delight, my main course came with a perfectly cooked medium-rare filet. How they managed to do that in a warming oven I’ll never know. All these many years later, I still consider this my favorite meal. I’ve had transatlantic first-class meals that didn’t wow me as much as this business-class meal.

Unfortunately I’ve had some awful ones as well. I was flying USAirways from Frankfurt to Philadelphia in coach once. Unlike my flight on Korean, I wanted something a bit lighter after spending the previous 10 days in the land of wurst and schnitzel. I requested the vegetarian pasta course. What was the salad that came with it? A green pasta salad! Somebody at the USAirways Frankfurt catering company obviously wasn’t thinking. At that point, a bag of pretzels from Southwest would have been much, MUCH better!

So yes, it can be dog-food awful, nonexistent, or sublime. It’s all a crap shoot based on where, when, and what cabin you are in. Bon Appetite!

For examples of the best and worst food in the air, take a look at airlinemeals.net.
One of the best airline industry bloggers bar none is Brett Snyder of The Cranky Flyer. Brett has a reviews of many airline meals.