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Flight Catering Association
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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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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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