The famous words of Gordon Ramsey echo through my ears every time I board a long flight.
“There’s no f**king way I eat on planes.
I worked on airlines for 10 years, so I know where this food’s been and where it goes, and how long it took before it got onboard.”
I heard that quote a year ago from a guy I was sitting next to on an international flight from Australia to China.
I’d boarded the aircraft starving, and was looking forward to my inflight meal. I was watching ‘Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares’ on my phone, which is what inspired the gentlemen next to me to tell me what Ramsay had just told a reporter.
I was mortified, and this feeling wasn’t improved when I was served ‘the beef option’ by the onboard stewardess.
I peeled back the tin foil to discover a thin tray that was two thirds rice, and one third rancid-smelling meat that was drowning in brown goopy sauce.
Bread was served separately in a plastic wrapping, so I just ate that.
Why does it have to be this way? Why must we suffer?
Here are the reasons why.
There’s too many people onboard, and they didn’t pay enough to be there.
What we pay for an economy class flight is 10x cheaper than what people were paying 60 years ago.
In 1978 the Airline Deregulation act saw the US Government take its hands off the wheel with regards to controlling airline routes and pricing.
With this new freedom came the invention of low cost airlines and discount ticketing.
Everything that could be chopped from an airfare was cut to lower pricing.
More seats were rammed into a cabin, cabin staff were slashed to the bare minimum, and food began being prepared in enormous quantities in central locations and frozen for distribution across the country.
These tins of food can be kept, handled and stored indefinitely as they’re managed by an enormous fulfilment network.
Some airlines deny that the food is frozen.
They say that food is partially prepared in kitchens nearby airports before being brought onboard and finished in the onboard kitchenette.
I’m inclined to believe that this is probably true with Business and First class meals, but unlikely with the economy class slop.
Other reports say that food is partially cooked before being flash-cooled and kept on ice for 10+ hours waiting to board a plane.
If that’s true, I don’t see how it’s better than freezing it.
Once the tins of food are loaded onto the flight and are being finished off in the onboard kitchenette we encounter our next issue.
There’s not enough air in this air
At cruising altitude we are sitting at 35,000 feet. The air outside is less than 1% humidity, but thanks to technology, the air inside is 20%.
20% humidity is still extremely dry. About half of the oxygen onboard is recycled, and the other half is new air that’s been sucked in, hydrated, and distributed.
These terrible air conditions don’t just dry out your skin, they dry out your food and mess with your ability to taste.
Our taste is governed by our nose, and our nose is able to work by harnessing the water in the air.
“There IS no water in this air!!”
Because of this disconnect between our nose and our tastebuds, the food tastes much blander.
This is coupled with the fact that the food was made a while ago and was prepared onboard in the same terrible air conditions.
Heating up this food at the humidity equivalent of being on a 6,000 ft mountain causes the food to lose moisture and wilt.
This is the reason some airlines give for saturating everything in sauce, they’re combating moisture loss.
So what do I not do?
- Don’t drink the booze. As tempting as it is to get completely wasted and black out the entire flight, alcohol is very dehydrating for your body.
You’re already in a severely dehydrated environment, so adding to that could make you sick.
In addition, you’re also in an oxygen depleted environment. So you’re going to metabolise the alcohol faster and get wasted. An airplane is not the place to get hammered and do something that could get you arrested.
2. Don’t drink the coffee or tea. Planes are notoriously filthy, and this goes extra for the onboard tanks that store the water thats used for coffee and tea.
These tanks are insanely hard to clean, so often they just aren’t.
Studies have found that even E. coli can be clinging to the walls of the tanks, then find it’s way into your cup of tea.
What do I do?
If the flight isn’t very long, eat in the terminal. Really stuff yourself.
You’re also allowed to bring snacks in your carry-on luggage, so bring snacks that are going to keep you feeling full and taste great. You’ll be the envy of your entire row.
If the flight is very long, choose the vegetarian option. Meat is more likely to be laden with bacteria and smothered in that thick brown sauce.
A salad will come with a dressing that you should add for the moisture.
Add the dressing, then cross your fingers and toes for luck.
You’re going to need it.