Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eating the Friendly Skies

Some might assert that the most positive development during the last thirty years of the human experience was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Others might point to the decoding of the humane genome with the potential this holds for extending quality life.

However, I am pretty secure in my belief that the most positive development of the last thirty years for mankind is the decision of most airlines to no longer serve food in flight. This single set of corporate edicts has improved the existence of millions of annual travelers and spared the lives of billions of no-range chickens, flavor-deprived cow-food and overcooked carrot spears.

These days you’re lucky if you even get a beverage on some flights. On a recent flight from L.A. to San Francisco, I was told they had no orange, apple or tomato juice—only cran-apple. I have never even seen a cran-apple. And on a late flight from Chicago I was offered a choice of light snack—a package of cracker-cheese food sandwiches or a ginger biscotti, with the half-life of Dick Clark. I had the cookie, and if I deciphered the date code correctly, it had been flying around the country long enough to achieve Platinum Status. This might explain why it had been upgraded to business class.

Still as bad as it is, I am appreciative that they no longer attempt to serve an airline meal on most flights. Historically, experiences in this regard have been less than encouraging for me. The worst one followed a post-meal movie on a flight from San Francisco to London. Some time between the last bite of my chicken cordon-beige and the rolling of the credits on the first Indiana Jones movie, the fourty-ish guy seated to my right passed to the great beyond. I had fallen asleep just after the big round ball chases Indiana out of the cave and managed to get two hours of shut-eye before the kid to my left, on his first ever plane flight, tapped me on the shoulder and awakened me with a head-gesture toward our window-seated aisle mate and the words, “I think he’s dead”.

I swiveled my head from left to right and back left again to reply “Yep he’s dead”. Stiffer than my mashed potatoes and paler than an airline green been, the poor guy needed no official coroner to put an exclamation point on his fate. He was dead and the only consolation was that I had, at last, an opportunity to use my call button for a matter of import. “Ding”.

“Yes Sir, what can I do for you?”

“Well you can’t do anything for me, and I think it’s too late to do anything for him”.

The look on the young attendants face was—well special, as she nearly suppressed an “Oh my God!”, not wanting to alarm other passengers.

I will spare you the details of the subsequent ordeal that led to me and the kid standing in the back of the plane for several hours before finally being relegated to the attendants’ fold-out seats for the rest of the full flight. The young attendant was herself attended to, by a more experienced colleague who assured her that “this kind of thing happens all the time” on the “geezer-flight” from London to Sydney. “Just close their eyes and put a blanket up around them”.

In due course, the first flight attendant came ostensibly to check on us, but her first question was, “I have to ask you, what was your first thought when you realized the gentleman next to you had died?”

I replied that I was “glad I didn’t order the fish”. Now I can’t say for sure that the mini-brick of Chilean Death Bass, was the cause of this poor soul’s demise. But when I asked an official in London to share with me the cause of death, he replied ominously, “don’t worry sir, we’re quite sure it wasn’t contagious”.

Hmmm, not contagious. I could see he wanted to add, “You did have the chicken, right?”, but he maintained his Buckingham Palace guard stoicism in the face of a possible admission of liability. Clever, those Brits.

These days, while we are spared the threat of airline food poisoning, we are left to worry about what the passengers near us are going to bring on board to eat. Used to be you just sat there hoping that the fat guy (or in my case the other fat guy) doesn’t sit down next to you. Or if traveling from Paris, you try to fly on Sunday because you know Saturday is “bath night”. Now it’s “God, please don’t let the vegan-looking anti-shaver woman with the tupperware container sit next to me.”

So in the interest of good human relations, let me suggest the following rules for bringing food on to airplanes.

  • Nothing with fish sauce
  • No cooked fish whatsoever, sushi is OK
  • No blue cheese, Roquefort, gorgonzola, etc.
  • No BBQ sauces
  • Leave the onions off the chili
  • Come to think of it, No Chili
  • No organ meats
  • No leftovers prepared more than 24 hours ahead

I am soliciting other rules of thumb to add to this list in order to create the comprehensive “Let’s All Get Along” heuristics for bringing food on planes. Please send yours to

In the meantime, don’t eat the fish!