Monday, March 25, 2013

In-Flight Dining

Remember the days of getting a complimentary meal during commercial airline flights regardless of what class you happened to be seated in during the flight?  The meals were excellent in first class.  You were offered wine.  You got appetizers before your meal.  You got hot chocolate chips cookies shortly before starting your arrival descent.  But, even in coach, you had a choice of chicken, beef or fish.  Just like in the movie Airplane!

That 1980 comedy reflects a bygone era.  You don't get that free meal anymore.  Nowadays, you can buy a sandwich.  But you can't pay cash for it.  Credit or debit cards only.  This blog piece goes back to the days of in-flight dining and Pan Am airlines.

I was working for VH1 at the time.  This was in the late 1980s.  I had to tape some interviews in Los Angeles for my talk show and the company booked me on a New York to Los Angeles direct flight.  I was booked smack-dab in the middle of the coach section.  A crowded coach section.  The whole flight was crowded.

I knew that passengers, back in those days, could order special meals when they made their reservations.  I had friends who'd pre-order vegetarian plates.  I'd heard about one special meal and wondered why was it different from any other meal.  So...when I called to confirm my reservation before my flight....I asked what was in that meal for my flight.  It sounded delicious.  I requested it.  I ordered that special meal over the phone.  Quick.  Simple.  Easy.

I'd been on trips where I saw the flight attendant just deliver the special meal to the passenger who requested it because the information was on a print out with the passenger's name and seat number.

This particular Pan Am flight was delayed because we had to wait to some bad weather to clear.  And it was really packed.  When we were finally airborne, we learned that there was some kind of technical glitch with a bit of the pre-boarding information that the flight crew had received.  Nothing major.  But it affected information for the meal service that was soon to start.  That's what what stewardess told us over the intercom.

She followed that with "...will Passenger Rivers, who ordered the kosher meal, please raise your hand so we know where you are.  Passenger Rivers, who ordered the kosher meal, please raise your hand."

Slowly, I raised my African-American Catholic arm up from the middle of the coach section, leaving those who turned around for a look to make their own conclusions.  Whatever those conclusions were.

The guy seated next to me seemed like he was trying to conceal the big question mark on his face after I was handed my meal.  I said to him simply, "They do a really nice brisket."

And Pan Am did.  I love brisket.  That was one great in-flight kosher meal.

And, with that, I send you my wishes for a Good Passover.


  1. These days, I get nothing more than a complimentary beverage(non-alcoholic, of course) with my flight. But I guess it also depends on the length of duration of the flight. If your flight overlaps meal hours, you may get a complimentary meal. I think. If you do, it's nothing too special. Usually a small sandwich with a side of crackers and a small apple or something similar. My flights usually last no more than 2 1/2- 3 hours. By the way, AIRPLANE is just a drop dead funny movie. The scene with Barbara Billingsley talking jive with the black passenger is just hysterical. Please don't take that, Bobby, as a racial comment. I just think it's a laugh out loud funny scene. And have a great Good Friday and Easter Sunday Bobby!

  2. Thomas, when Beaver Cleaver's mother showed up and started speaking jive for the stewardess, I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. The whole movie audience erupted in laughter. And I saw it in Milwaukee, home of the Zucker Brothers who made AIRPLANE! That is one of the most unexpectedly funny moments I have ever seen in a movie. It is just laugh out loud funny. If I had been the two guys playing the passengers, there's no way I could have kept from breaking up laughing while shooting that scene. Happy Easter Sunday.


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