Something that has fascinated me since my early childhood are inflight meals. There’s just something about food served on flights that can keep me entertained for the duration of the flight to whichever destination I’m traveling to. So much even, that I can admit to actully looking forward to that next long haul flight, as that’s when you get your first high altitude friendly sample of what you’re going to have properly on holiday.
A lot of people always mention that inflight meals are the equivalent of last night’s vomit session, however it always strikes me that 80-90% of passengers still have at least half of their meal. Nor have I ever spot anyone who bring their own meals on board. As this obviously does not match up, I’m thinking most people are merely in denial and are in actual fact looking forward to their little tray just as much as I do. In fact, I’m certain that you’ll find at least 2 people you know who’ll have to own up when thoroughly interrogated.
Over the years, not only have I enjoyed countless meals on board, I’ve also observed behaviour of both the airline and passengers when it comes to meal serving. On the airline side, you always start off with a wet towel. Then, you get 1 drink and a bag of peanuts/almonds/similar. After 1,5/2 hours, the first proper meal comes out. In case you’re on a 10hr + flight, after 5 hours you can choose between ice cream and pot noodles (first observed on a Cathay Pacific flight to please all the fellow Chinese, KLM are now also handing out these extras, good people). Then, 2/1,5 hours before landing, lights go back on and you get your breakfast. These times are always the same. Just as the inflight shopping cart, it always comes out just after dinner. Not before, not at any other time even if it’s an afternoon flight. Air host(esse)s are just programmed to perform these duties at these preset times. Any change would cause severe damage to their hardware, so don’t try to request them to do anything in a different order (or, if you’re in for a little fun, try calling someone over for a drink just as they start serving meals).
And what do passengers do on a flight? On the ordering side, have you ever noticed that on flights, people suddenly drink enormous amounts of tomato juice? No? Well, take a good look next time you’re on a plane. I once first starting drinking tomato juice after hearing at least 15 others ask for it, and now, I also hardly ever skip a flight without having a glass myself. I bet most of the people never have tomato juice at home, which strengthens the link between this drink and the flying restaurant. What’s also interesting, is whereas the air hosts have trouble changing routine, passengers often start their meals anywhere but with the starter. Travelers just have no shame, or just not the faintest idea.
Now the way that inflight meals are presented vary heavily per airline, which in a way can affect the way you experience the meals. For instance (I’m only talking about airlines I’ve flown with), Cathay Pacific hands out menus so one can spend the first two hours choosing chicken or Chinese fish (hungry………;-)), KLM will start off with smoked almonds and just come to surprise you an hour later. British Airways also surprises but you can always count on a hearty English breakfast, same goes for South African Airways – great stuff. They know their passengers well. And Shanghai Airlines just come over once to give you a meal probably as large as a fast food supersize, containing something for everyone. As I tend to fly exclusively with KLM and its alliance partners nowadays, you can imagine seeing me suddenly sweating when having to suddenly make a decision. Luckily I’ve usually got company on long haul flights so I’ll just pick both for me and my companion and demand to switch meals halfway.
Most of you will now probably ask what the best and worst food experiences have been so far. Why, of course!
Actually my favourite bit of tiramisu ever was on a KLM flight to Hong Kong. My boyfriend always tries to cover my mouth when this gets discussed among friends, but I think that it’s perfectly normal to admit to this. In fact, he should confess to liking his slice as well, as I can remember quite well that we asked for a second tray on that particular flight. The best overall meal was when we got an upgrade once, a proper fancy fish meal and a la carte breakfast. Unfortunately, I don’t earn enough to buy business class tickets just to have good food, so I’ll have to disqualify this meal. But, on another flight in plebs class we got served great Bertolli-sponsored pasta. I love it when you get a tray where you can actually trace back where the food’s from and you actually know the brand.
The worst was probably on a Sabena flight, quite some years ago. This was the one time that my fish actually smelt of vomit. Spent 12 hours starving, living off whatever biscuits and chocolate my mother had brought along. If you’re wondering ‘who are Sabena?’ – this was the Belgian national airline, who’ve gone bankrupt. And now you know why.
And the weirdest? Well, it was so out there that I’ve actually still got it at home – a dried squid snack from Shanghai Airlines, served on a flight from Beijing to Shanghai. Sometimes I look at the packet and wonder if now’s the time to open it and taste. However, I’ve not found the courage just yet. Some people say that one has to try every single thing that their hosting country serves. It may sound a little strange coming from a human vacuum cleaner such as myself, but I believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to draw a line and refuse at some point.
Off to find our next meal destination! But before that, here’s a little clip from comedian Alan Davies on pilots and why he takes the vegetarian option on his flights.
Still not enough? Visit www.airlinemeals.net for thousands of pictures of inflight meals. Shame they seemed to have stopped, I’d start sending in my meals as well 😉