Airplane Food

[This is also published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites]

My family and I are flying to the UK this weekend, so in addition to trying to arrange our trip and get a bunch of work done before we go, I’m planning our in-flight menus. I’ve been a plane picnicker for years, even before most airlines stopped serving in-flight meals. It all started when I was pregnant and just couldn’t bear the thought of airplane or airport food. Before a short flight to San Diego, I brought along a prosciutto sandwich from my favorite deli along with a Stewart’s root beer (which wouldn’t be allowed anymore. No liquids!), and some fried artichoke hearts. As everyone around me munched pretzels, my husband and I split our delightful dinner. There was no going back after that.

Since that time, I’ve had to consider my children’s food intake in addition to my own. I remember a flight to Washington D.C. where I literally brought an entire grocery bag full of food. As my family and I munched on cobb salads, BLTs, brie, and chocolate, I caught the envious looks of my fellow passengers who were stuck eating Jet Blue potato chips and cookies. I ended up taking pity on a lovely Indian grandmother in a beautiful sari who sat a few seats away. Switching seats with my husband so I could sit next to her, she told me all about living in India, the food her cook would make her there, and how her saddened she was that her daughters didn’t make the same foods in their U.S. homes. It turns out she was a moderately famous singer in her native country, a widow, and extremely funny. I was so glad I had brought along that extra mozzarella and tomato sandwich to share.

I rarely make anything homemade for our flights. Unlike road trips, I want the food to be packaged and sealed when I make my way through the security lines. No muffins falling out of my carry on, just food from a restaurant or store in its own paper or plastic lining. Maybe it’s my stomach-twisting fear of flying, or the fact that being on a plane is such a dismal experience, but I just can’t cook before I fly. Our standard airplane repertoire is usually freshly-made sandwiches from a local deli, some Petit Ecolier dark chocolate cookies, a few apples and pears, maybe a salad or two in secure plastic containers, some cheese (often brie), and always a bar or two of good chocolate. Anything I can think of to ease the pain of having my legs in one position for hours with some guy’s reading light piercing my right eye as I try to sleep with my jacket over my face.

The return trip home is often a problem as I’m never as sure where to shop for airplane food while in a strange place, and I sometimes forget to buy food at all. I’m vowing not to let this happen this time around, however, as the last time I flew home from Europe, I was stuck eating a greasy and cardboard-inspired excuse for a piece of pizza in the Toronto airport while running from plane to plane. My goal is to find some nice meat pasties for the trip home, along with some shortbread and a few pieces of fruit. I’m hoping to extend the good feelings of Scotland with some treats for that long and boring plane ride home.

Does anyone else pack a picnic when they fly? I’d love to hear what you bring.

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