Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Airline Food On U.S. Domestic Flights: So Twentieth Century

For decades in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s--and well into the 1990s--I took airline food for granted.

I even complained in the early nineties to Delta and United about the QUANTITY of it, not the quality.

For example, about 1992 I asked some senior executives I'd come to know at Delta why they would serve a full breakfast in First Class on both my morning flights: RDU to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to wherever I was going. It was an unintended consequence of hub flying, of course; you couldn't get anywhere without connecting somewhere, so I was always on at least two flights. I did not need two big breakfasts, after all, and I thought Delta (in my example) could save some bucks by cutting back on one or the other meal.

In those not-long-ago days Delta served a really good hot breakfast even on the short 75-minute 6:00 AM departure Raleigh to Atlanta.

And they produced a really good hot meal appropriate to the time on just about every flight throughout the day after breakfast.

Heck, the term "snack" in the OAG meant that Delta (and United and other airlines) were serving a smaller portion of food on flights scheduled for the odd, in-between-meal times. Even a 3:00 PM departure would have something to nibble on if you snagged a First Class seat; you could count on it.

Point is, just about every flight on the major airlines, not matter how short or at what time of day, had some sort of food service in First Class. Like I said, I took it for granted, and I never dreamed we frequent business travelers would go from feast to famine.

But by the time the clock struck midnight on the last day of the 20th century, the omnipresent First Class food was shrinking away to nothing. Soon after the airlines had become artful at defining domestic First Class food for the New Millennium in Catch-22 terms: "Delicious New Meals! Try Us! Look At The Beautiful Pictures Of Food In Our Ads! Here's An Exciting Write-up On Our Famous Executive Food Designer! But, uh, oh yes, you'll see this stuff only on flights over 22.125 hours and within narrow bands of time defined by us as appropriate to time of day, and, uh, never on RJs or 737s without galleys or on some larger planes--can't remember just which ones--and, uh, there might not be enough to go around, either--but never mind those details, because you must: Look At The Beautiful Pictures Of Food In Our Ads!"

So what does this mean for business flyers nowadays?

Well, Delta serves almost no meals any more. Even on some so-called transcon flights I've been on, they have come up with several excuses (wrong plane; wrong time of day by two minutes; flight length missed the meal trigger by five minutes, and so on and so forth).

But at LEAST Delta serves a basket of different REAL snacks on every flight in First Class and often even in coach. They have choices, like Lance cheese and peanut butter snack crackers, bags of peanuts, cookies, and bags of chips. You won't go hungry, but you might get fatter or contribute to rising chlesterol.

Just the same, hurray for Delta! At least they are serving SOMETHING on EVERY flight.

OK, when was the last time we got excited over having tiny bags of peanuts and called that progress? When Delta and most everyone else (except Continental) curtailed virtually all food service, that's when.

A case in point from American: Their 4:10 PM RDU/ORD departure used to serve a "snack" en route to O'Hare (in First Class only), but recently they fiddled it to leave at 3:50 PM. Now the same flight has pathetic tiny bags of unappetizing pretzels and snack thingies which are labeled "Premium Snacks" by AA. I guess they think people will believe the words instead of their eyes and their taste buds.

On one such flight last week I had missed lunch, and, hungry, I asked the First Class FA if she would mind bringing me one of the $5 snack boxes which are normally sold in coach (which I made clear I would pay for). Shaking her head, she said they didn't stock even the for-sale snack boxes in coach on the flight any more because it was not appropriate for the time of day (3:50 PM departure instead of 4:10 PM).

Before I could say it, she admitted it was real stupid of American.

These are just snapshots, of course. But they illustrate my point that 21st century airline food is virtually nonexistent. I miss the days when I could complain to Delta that they served me too much and too often. What was I thinking?


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