Monday, October 26, 2020

grounded beef

The world is ready to travel.

Or, at least, some of us are -- based on some recent newspaper and magazine articles. And, even if we cannot hop on a Boeing 777 to Santiago, we can re-create some of the joy of flying without leaving the ground.

Comedians have long made a living off of airline food. Not by eating it, but by ridiculing it. Even Stephen Sondheim took a whack at flight cuisine: "Anything that is white is sweet/Anything that is brown is meat/Anything that is gray don't eat." Even the food in the first class cabin of Emirates is barely a step above a Swanson's dinner.

Not that it matters. After all, who chooses a flight for the food? The beverages and meals are merely there to take our minds off of the fact that we are tempting several laws of physics by hurtling through the air in an aluminum tube.

Well, it turns out that a lot of people rank the food as their favorite part of their air trip. And, for some reason, a lot of those people are Asians.

Last August, The Economist ran an article about Asian airlines that are trying to staunch their revenue hemorrhaging by selling in-flight meals to the public. Garuda, the Indonesian carrier, will deliver a meal to the "passenger's" home with the food packaged in white plastic containers and served with plastic cutlery, on a tray, just as it would be on a Garuda flight. For 30,000 rupiah ($2 US), you can order a satisfying meal. Two choices on the menu are spinach and pastrami quiche and nasi daun jeruk (rice infused with coconut milk and lime leaf).

Some swear the meals are better on the ground than they are in the air. If history is any guide, that may undoubtedly be true. But Garuda is not alone. Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific offer similar services, as do two Australian companies who usually cater airlines.

But those schemes are pikers compared to a story that hit the wire services this weekend. On Saturday, Singapore Airlines set aside two of its A380 fleet for an ground experience in the world's largest passenger aircraft.

The diners went through the same process as passengers checking in and going through security. They were then shown to their respective seats where they could wear masks and practice social distancing while watching in-flight movies.

But the selling point, according to the newspaper, was the meal. Coach diners could dig into soy sauce-glazed chicken with spicy fried eggplant and rice for the bargain price of S$53 ($40 US). 

Business class diners were served a six-course meal for S$321 ($236 US). For the lucky few to be seated in one of the first-class suites, the meal cost a princely S$642 ($472 US). But even that was a fire sale price compared to the five-figure fare it would cost to be in that cabin on almost any of Singapore's A380 flights.

However, Australia gets the prize for creativity. On 10 October, Qantas tasked one of its Boeing 787 to do a seven-hour scenic flyover of a list of Australia's prime tourist destinations:  Queensland, the Northern Territory, New South Wales, the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Byron Bay and Sydney Harbor. Lunch was designed by a celebrity Australian chef. Not surprisingly, the flight quickly sold out even though each ticket cost between $2,700 (US) and $560 (US) to end up right back at the place of departure.

Singapore Airlines had considered a similar "flight to nowhere," but spiked it after local protests concerning pollution.  

So, I do not appear to be on my own in my flighty wanderlust. I have not seen any stories about Aeromexico selling its in-flight meals to the public. That is fine with me. I doubt I would have even taken up Singapore Airlines on its dining offer.

After all, the true joy of flying is to have that airline door slam behind me like a jail door, and then, hours later, have it open on a place I have never been.

One day. 

But today, I am going to make a pasta dish that will be better than anything I will ever eat on an airplane.

And that is good enough for me -- for now.   

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