I always wondered why people complained so much about airline food. It struck me as incredible that anybody could pull together something resembling a meal several thousand feet in the air — a feat I can hardly perform at sea level.
Besides, it was fun. You’d hear the cart rolling along the aisle and smell the aroma and crane your neck to see whether you should get chicken or pasta. Sure, the food was pretty bad. But that was the point. The awfulness of the food was something you could talk about with the person sitting next to you. You’d lower your tray tables with a sense of ceremony, plunge into the entree with plastic utensils that usually splinter halfway through the meal, and talk and complain. Like I said, it was fun. What else were you going to do at 20,000 feet in the air? Go outside and play?
But now. Now. It’s ruined. I don’t want to point the finger of blame, but it’s probably our fault for complaining so much about airline food. If you’re in coach, as I almost always am, you don’t get fed anything unless you’re going to Mumbai or Venus or someplace.
This creates several serious problems. First, there’s the seething class resentment — knowing that people in first- and business-class are gorging themselves on filet mignon and caviar. I mean, who knows what’s going on up there? All I can tell you is I’m pretty sure they’re having a lot more fun than I am, wedged into steerage. It only takes being frogmarched through business class once or twice on my way to my postage-stamp seat with no overhead space for me to become a fire-breathing, all-power-to-the-people socialist. Isn’t this supposed to be a class-free society?
(I should add that I very occasionally get bumped up to business class when I’m traveling with my husband a/k/a Mr. Platinum. I spend part of those trips feeling guilty because I’m not the business class type, then quickly discovering that yes! it suits me pretty well, so can I please fly like this for the rest of my natural life since, upon reflection, I realize I am very much the business-class type? “Don’t get used to it,” I always tell myself. Still.)
Beyond the seething class resentments that the lack of coach food is fomenting, I think it’s also ruined the sense of camaraderie in the rear of the plane. You don’t sit back and eat and complain and hear your seatmate’s life story any longer. No more messy, tearful confessions about sordid affairs and gut-shot dreams and petty embezzlements and office espionage. Oh, no. Everybody brings his own sad little snack and eats — a bit sneakily, I’ve noticed — by himself, staring straight ahead, sullen and silent, confessing nothing.
I usually buy trail mix from the airline. Let me tell you: You can’t bond with anybody while eating trail mix. You just sit and watch all its slippery little seeds scatter all over the tray and your lap and the floor and remind yourself of how happy you are to be in coach, since this shows how unspoiled and egalitarian you are. The next time, you swear to yourself, you’re flying with your husband. That way, at least you’ll have someone to talk to. That way, you’ll have a decent chance of making the jump into business class and leaving all the squalor and the trail mix and your pathetic socialist dreams behind you. Several rows behind you, if you care to count.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)