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A Smart Solution to the Plane Food Problem

This is not just another blog post about how bad airplane food can be. This time, I have a solution.

On a recent Iberia Airlines transatlantic red-eye, I was seated toward the tail. By the time the food cart arrived, they had run out of hot meals. Ten minutes later, something materialized: a seething tray of brown matter masquerading as shepherd’s pie. The potent cocktail of appearance, smell, taste and consistency conjured the primordial soup from whence we all, including the meal, originated. My neighbor wasn’t so lucky. Crew managed to locate something akin to a protein-packed M.R.E. in a Fancy Feast tin, complete with flip top. (It was technically chicken.) He opened it greedily, ignoring my joke about botulism. A woman behind us who suffered the same culinary fate sliced herself — twice — when trying to open her preheated cat food.

Recently, a colleague offered a simple but brilliant solution: ban hot food on planes. For her, the reheated stench that fills the cabin triggers a flight response. Even for long-hauls or red-eyes, I like the Southwest model: offer flyers a potpourri of individual snacks — Cheez-Its, Oreo crisps, pita chips. (Recycle the packaging.) And if a meal must be served, stick with the cold stuff like sandwiches, salads and packaged desserts. There are some fine products out there. Sahale nut mixes come to mind — and I don’t even mind paying for the privilege, as nearly all U.S. carriers make you shell out for food on domestic flights anyway.

I understand some long-haul economy fliers covet the hot meal, and experienced travelers know which airlines take dining more seriously than others. But the weak ratio of good to noxious is still an indisputable fact.

Back to Iberia. The “light dinner” on my return flight — a cold ham-and-cheese bocadillo — fit our prescription perfectly. There was no festering mass, no smell, and it kept hunger at bay until we landed at JFK.

Let’s talk airplane food: Sound off about our proposition or share your best and worst cabin meals below.

— written by Dan Askin

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