Brewer's Droop #211

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I seem to have been reading quite a lot recently about poor food quality being served on airlines.

Personally, I think all money spent on food should be diverted towards making sure the plane is safe. I’d rather the airlines spent less on olive oil and more on engine oil frankly. I really couldn’t give a damn about the food but am quite fond of the idea of the plane landing safely. (Well, that and the wine of course.)

Complaining about airline food is a bit like going to PEP Stores and expecting to find a tailor with a measuring tape around his neck waiting to serve you and then walking out with a bespoke suit.

I mean, who in their right mind, thinks that spending a night in a hotel is the same as an overnight flight to London? You can complain in a hotel when the choice for dinner is only chicken or beef, but they don’t expect you to sleep upright in a chair so you can’t moan about the scrambled eggs being rubbery or sloppy.

Most people get onto planes in order to go somewhere else. Airlines are not in the food industry – they’re in the travel business, but because someone at an airline once decided that they could get a competitive edge by offering food, that was the beginning of all the trouble.

Now they have to cater for all kinds of tastes – vegans, vegetarians, halaal, kosher, nut allergic and lactose intolerant people. Can you blame them for not caring whether you like your potatoes mashed or boiled? I did once sit next to a man who asked for his steak to be done “medium rare” – no kidding.

Then there’s the hygiene issue. All those meals have to be heated and served in conditions as sterile as possible. The last thing any airline wants is a plane full of passengers with diarrhoea and only a few lavatories. It still amazes me how cabin staff can produce and serve over 300 hot dinners in galleys smaller than most caravans without introducing some kind of bacteria.

I’ve travelled a fair bit and discovered that mainly the ONLY people who complain about the food on board are those who think (for some weird reason) their flight food makes a good topic of conversation for (a) the person next to them or (b) their friends later on and, of course, (c ) the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter. They cannot allow themselves to enjoy it, otherwise it’s just another boring story.

Okay, to be fair, I’ve had the worst hot dogs in my life on American Airlines. I’ve also had delicious fillet steak on SAA.

Of course, from time to time, you’re going to get a lump of suspicious looking stuff which is not nice, served by a surly stewardess who’s probably having period pains [Droop 199]. But, on average, the food is pretty good.

Air Chefs produce 22,000 meals for 125 domestic and international flights every day [Droop 203] so it’s a bit unfair to compare them with whats-his-name (you know, the TV cook who can’t speak properly). Don’t expect haute cuisine you won’t be disappointed.


“Cheap” flights can often end up being expensive – I think everyone knows that by now, yet we still sometimes make the same mistakes over again like idiots.

Some time ago we’d been skiing in Austria and had decided to visit friends in Guernsey (no, not the best time of year I’ll admit.)

As we’d been spending money faster than a newly appointed Cabinet Minister, we decided to try the budget airlines. So we flew over on “Aurigny” which was quite nice actually. (Mind you, there was an excellent bar at Bristol airport so that may have influenced my experience slightly).

We flew back on “Flybe” and oh dear. Although the fare was about £10 cheaper than Aurigny (who had no seats available) I was about to discover their baggage charges. It seemed that their allowance was slightly less and, as I hadn’t pre-booked a suitcase (and couldn’t take it into the cabin) I had to pay an extra £30 just to get my bag onboard (now, in my book, R450 just to carry a small bag on a short journey is a bit much). The rest of the flight, needless to say, was horrible.

And now I read that “easyJet” have reduced the acceptable hand luggage limit by a massive one-third. They say that they won’t be charging to put travellers’ previously okay bags into the hold but that’s only a half-truth. There is a weight limitation on bags going into the hold so, yes, they actually will be squeezing more money out of passengers.

Having over-weight baggage can be a pricey business. Even more recently we flew to Rome on Turkish airlines and had a 32 kg hold allowance. Marvellous (and a very pleasant airline too). We went on a cruise and ended up back in Rome, but rather than end the holiday there we booked an extra five days in Sicily. We’d take an Alitalia domestic flight to Palermo.

Problem is that Alitalia has a domestic hold allowance of 23kg and are very strict on cabin luggage weight too (8kg). Of course we were a few kilos overweight. Their excess baggage rate is €10 per Kg and, as we were about 10 kg over the limit that was going to cost €100 (R1,000 at the time). Sod that.

So I dressed up like a Michelin Man with about eight layers of pullovers and jackets, while the check-in lady watched with great amusement. At one point I asked her if what I was doing was actually legal and she smiled “Si, certo” which got me thinking what the whole bloody point of the exercise was.

Anyway, we slowly and uncomfortably got the weight of our cases down. The check-in lady was continually weighing them and saying “solo un po ‘di piu” (“just a little more”). She also suggested that my wife carry all the laundry in a bag as hand-luggage.

Finally we made it and the check-in lady triumphantly handed us our boarding passes.

After going through check-in I disrobed and we packed as much as we could into our hand luggage.

I’m not proud of what we did. Rules is rules after all. But it was just the senseless futility of the entire exercise which got to me. I mean, the same amount of weight ended up on the plane – just distributed slightly differently. Fortunately we were checking in very early (regular Droop readers will know about this obsession of mine about arriving early) so we didn’t delay anyone else or cause any major disruption. In fact all we did was provide amusement for the Alitalia staff.

When we were leaving Italy a few days later, we were sitting in an airport lounge, and some Italians asked me how I’d enjoyed my holiday. So I told them it was very nice but that their pizzas were not up to South African standards – and neither was their pasta. (Yes, I am a spiteful bastard.)

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  1. I agree about the airline food. I don’t think it’s necessary at all on local flights – rather get a cheaper rate. On international flights I only ever have had quite acceptable meals.

  2. Loved it, Chris. I, for one, LOVE plane food. Anything I dont have to shop for and cook, is good by me!!

    • Yep. And I think a lot of people would agree! (I do)

  3. You note “I’d rather the airlines spent less on olive oil and more on engine oil frankly”. My problem is that, when it comes to food, I suspect they are not using olive oil at all but recycled engine oil!

    • Ha Ha Ha!

  4. You have lost the plot pal. Anyone who thinks airline food is edible has no tastebuds. I paid for food when I bought my ticket and I am very angry when its inedible. I complain every time but it never changes.

    • Um…if it never changes then why complain? As for you having paid for the food with your ticket – that’s a very grey area. You could argue that the teetotalers on board are also paying for the wine you’re drinking.

      • Then the non-drinkers should complain too. If everyone complains then may be something will be done. In the meantime the food is still crappy but at least they cant spoil the beer.

        Its people like you who stop change.

        • So you want us all to think and behave like you?
          To be perfectly honest Barry, I hope I never find myself sitting next to you on a flight, because I’m quite sure the whining would really get on my nerves.

  5. “As we’d been spending money faster than a newly appointed Cabinet Minister” – hahaha, nice one Chris.

    “I complain every time but it never changes.” – maybe there is a hidden hint in that Barry…?

  6. Apart from wearing many layers of clothes at check-in, my friend and I filled all the layers and pockets with everything from books to electronics … crazy. No doubt the airlines will cotton on to that soon too.

  7. As a diabetic, I am regularly amazed at how little food companies (incl restaurants) and service providers know about special diets. I was offered white rolls and jams (and nothing else) on one airline, for lunch. When I complained, I was taken aft to choose my meal from what they had and there was a super salad and a huge fruit platter.
    Bearing that in mind, I did the same on SAA, only to find the large stewardess had earmarked my special meal for herself. She sulked. Tough tit!

  8. Complaints about Airline food are for the most part irrational. Not having the time of your life on a plane is a minor inconvenience, considering alternative travel methods. I’d rather have Airlines purchase faster planes and shorten the flight hours, I’m looking forward more to the destination than the ride.

  9. I rise above all this and thank my lucky stars that I can climb aboard an aircraft and be with my grandsons in London in around 10 hours! Aircrafts are not about food – they are an uncomfortable means to a delightful end. They do a great job in very trying circumstances. When you arrive in London you can switch on your palate for bon appetit.

  10. In my hand luggage I always pack some packets of nuts, olives and biltong (jerkey). Some shortbread or figbake biscuits assists in digesting unsavioury airline coffee (or what ever soya derivative they sometimes serve). A foil bread baking tin folded up neatly is handy as a vessel when 5 o’ clock shadow portuguesh stewardesses decline your request for a side plate. Rather chat them up in the galley where you can share some exotic fire-cracker cigars. Although I have had many foil bread baking tins confiscated at customs. I now have to declare it as genuine famous chef name present to my granny. Never works, it’s a mission to put all that Michelin regalia back again as I do too. What works best is dress in black. Shirt shorts underpants skipants socks jersey pullover jumper bellaclava (caution) condoms (stick it in your wallet) and that hot black jacket you hate so much. At least ye’ll look a bit thinner while you’re chewing and offering biltong to all the customs officials while taking international delivery orders. Now thats branding..

  11. A couple of weeks ago, I flew Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Brisbane. 8 hours …
    Within the first half hour, the lady sitting next to me started groaning and then threw up i her barf bag.
    They brought around the drinks trolley – couldn’t even force a whisky down my throat. The brought dinner, I ignored it.
    Before we reached Brisbane, she had used 5 bags! The plane was full so there was nowhere to move to …
    Didn’t get to taste the airline food at all.

    • OMG! D’you know, that’s never ever happened to me. Having said that it’ll probably happen tonight!

  12. Had the best butter chicken ever on an Emirates flight in 2009 and SAA’s wasn’t half bad either on the way to India in 2012! I have found, however, that the food coming back is much less appetising than the food flying out of SA.


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