This Week's Links

CNN Financial Network

LSG-SkyChef's press releases

visit by four journalists

Flight Catering Association

Channel 9

Kathleen Doheny

Katharine Dyson

Global Spotlight

Vegetarian Resource Group

Crabby Traveler

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My Tray is Locked in the Upright Positionno - it's not a hairpiece, just a bad haircut                back to TTN home page
by Joe Harkins - Feb 24, 99 (updated August 1, 2000)

   The actor/comedian Bill Murray was recently interviewed while flying cross-country. The reporter notes that when the stewardess placed his food in front of him, he gave it a startled glance and said, "We're from America. What are those?"

    That pretty much sums up the attitude of many travelers, especially those of us scrunched into the space-pinching seats of Torture Class. When the distance from your knees to your nose is shorter than a breadstick, it's only natural to resent anything that requires you to lower your tray.

    For a while, I thought that my reaction against airline food was just another example of my personal orneriness. Then I began noticing some travelers were foaming at the mouth, verbally if not literally. Other commentators seem to have left their ethics at the boarding gate.

CNN Financial Network's Traveler column, is an uncritical love-letter to LSG-Sky Chef, the world's largest in-flight food service culprit . . . err, caterer.

    Depending on how much trust you place in travel journalism, you may be either amused or appalled to learn that CNN-FN's alleged news article appears to be not much more than a one-sided rehashing of LSG-SkyChef's press releases. It may be just a co-incidence, but that anonymous hymn of unqualified praise carries a publication date within a few weeks of the visit by four journalists to Sky Chef's headquarters where they were wined and dined and, in the words of their hosts, "well looked after." (both web pages have been removed from the Sky Chefs and the LSG web sites since this article appeared. hmmm.)

    Expense-paid and deeply-discounted trips called fams or familiarization-tours are common in the travel business. Agents and writers take them frequently. It's actually more grueling work than you may think. The schedules are merciless and sometimes tedious. There's rarely time for personal exploration and relaxation. But it's just about the only way we can see the places and experience the services we recommend or warn against. Most of us manage to avoid becoming press release parrots by observing the standards and practices of a trade organization.

    Getting solid information on what to expect from your airline food is not made easier by the unwillingness of some trade groups to answer simple questions.

    If you have ever wondered what's hiding under the dark brown sauce on your airline food plate, don't ask W. M. Seeman, President of International Flight Catering Association. He became downright evasive when I emailed him inquiries about membership standards and rules for the prizes they award for inflight food. Each of his responses amounted to nothing more than a terse message asking, "
Who wants to know?"

    The next time some airline brags they've won one of IFCA's ominously named "Mercury" (in food???) awards, keep in mind not one of my questions on your behalf were answered and after a while IFCA simply stopped responding.

    Denver's Channel 9 reports that food expense per passenger varies from Southwest's 20 cents each to Midwest Express' $9.59 each but they never answered a request for the source of those numbers. In contrast, Kathleen Doheny offers sound and credible advice on how to get good-tasting, nutritious and even healthy meals in-flight.

    Upgrading to First Class is another way to get a decent meal. This past fall, as a paying passenger, and following a noisy run-in at Sabena Airlines home base in the Brussels' Airport over botched seat assignments with the rudest boarding-gate people I've ever encountered in 46 years of flying, my traveling companion and I were upgraded to First Class by the on-board staff.

    The food was excellent, complete with Champagne and other fine wines, shrimp cocktail and gourmet-quality entrees the equal of anything we had enjoyed in Brussels' excellent restaurants. However, like Travel Savvy's Katharine Dyson, had I paid thousands of dollars to upgrade, I would have felt overcharged. Why don't airlines sell optional First Class meals to those of us in the back willing to pay a reasonable additional fee?

    A lucid explanation of how to avoid the standard in-flight fare is the Global Spotlight article. Meal types such as Kosher, Vegetarian, etc., that often get more wholesome preparation, are explained. The unknown author also tells you how to make sure you get what you order and what to do if you don't.  Site visitors rate airline food and even list travel agents who specialize in the field.

    Crabby Traveler, a feature writer for ABC News, suggests that the solution to airline food begins before you get to the airport. Extra sauerkraut on that hot dog, please.


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