Monday, January 3, 2011

Eating On A Jet Plane

Airline Dinner Life Mar 19 1951
Life, March 19, 195
If you were leaving on a jet plane, like that song by Peter Paul and Mary* that we used to have to sing all, all the time in our groovy 4th grade open classroom circa 1971 (and which is now droning away in my head, ugh) - well, you had to eat something on the jet plane, too, right?

So tell me this: what was the meal like last time you were on a plane? Let me guess. It was not delicious. Neither was mine, the last time I flew somewhere.

Well, take a look at the kind of thing people had for a meal on a plane 60 years ago. It is hard to believe, isn't it? All those dishes are china, and the silverware is silverware, not plastic. Oh, and the food is real, too.

The steak would be hard to cut in that round little bowl, though. No room to manouevre. And in the picture, it looks like a little chocolate cake (despite the mushrooms on top) -  according to an informal poll I took this morning (by dragging family members over to the computer screen). Otherwise, though, it all looks pretty good. The little TWA tubs contain salad dressing and "Dessert Sauce," by the way.

So anyway, I was thinking about what airplane food used to be like, and a little research soon took me to a 1937 Popular Mechanics article about TWA's Skysleeper Chief, a cross-continental flight which had little beds and card tables and all sorts of fancy things. It was an overnight flight so you could "have breakfast served in bed if you like[d]." I wouldn't like having to fly overnight just to get across the country, but the breakfast in bed might make up for that.

TWA Plane Galley Pop Mech Nov 1937
Mind that vacuum jug!
As for the food, it was "carried in pre-heated vacuum containers...[and] was placed on the plane just before it left Newark. Breakfast came on board at Albuquerque before you got up." There were 8 restaurants on the transcontinental route that provided the airplane meals. Hot foods and hot and cold water were packed in vacuum jugs. The salad and desserts went in a "cold box" cooled by dry ice. Crackers, china, napkins and silverware were in drawers in the galley - which also had a steam table built in so that the stewardesses could  keep things hot while they arranged everything on the plates.

Meanwhile, the TWA dieticians were planning new menus every day. And "usually the menu is arranged to include dishes typical of the section the plane is flying over." Because of course, you should have steak when you are flying over Kansas, and "fresh trout for breakfast" above Arizona. Oh, and lovely avocado salads "are part of a lunch or dinner in the southwest."

TWA Berths Pop Mech Nov 1937
Fixing up the berths on the Skysleeper in 1937.
And when you were all tired out from eating, the stewardesses would make up your bed out of pairs of seats or in the berths in the sleeping compartments. You'd have a nice thick mattress and pillow made up with sheets and blankets.

The photos and the information on the TWA Skysleeper Chief are from Popular Mechanics, November 1937 - which is a shame, because this is exactly the plane I would like to take next time I have to fly anywhere. Only I would prefer my fresh trout for dinner, please. And I would prefer an ergonomic pillow (you know, the angled kind that help your spine not sink into the mattress), so I hope that they have some in the overhead compartments.

*Written by John Denver but PP and M made it famous, etc. etc. in 1969. It was, apparently, the second to last #1 song of the 1960s. I don't know what the last one was, though.


Con Artist Trickster said...

With all those service, it's sounds more like a flying hotel. Probably they sent a singing quartet too for the passengers who happened to have their birthday at that time.

Art of RetroCollage said...

Just try getting a meal AT ALL on a flight these days! And many airlines are charging extra for it if it is available.

vanilla said...

Always did prefer shiitake on the chocolate cake.

(Actually, one would prefer most anything to today's servings on the airliner.)

Cari Hislop said...

I've never had a bad airline meal that I can remember, but this could be a pleasant unexpected byproduct of growing up with my mother's cooking. She could write the book, One Thousand Ways to Make Spaghetti Sauce that No One Will Want to Eat. The time some 'helpful' person gave our family some fresh venison was the worst. Boot-tough venison and Spaghetti...unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

The best food I've had on an airline has been on Air France. That was lovely (no I don't get out much) though I can't say the same for trying to navigate the Charles de Gaul airport. To this day I've no idea how I found my plane back to England. It's a blank. I was so traumatized I couldn't remember any of my French. I don't remember anything before standing in line sobbing. The Frenchman behind the glass was very kind!

DrJulieAnn said...

I heard on NPR (I think) Singapore Airlines is now offering luxury suites. This is from the Seattle Times two days ago:

In March the airline will begin offering flights from Los Angeles to Singapore on a new Airbus A380 with 12 semiprivate cabins, each with a 23-inch video screen, meals served on Givenchy china, 35-inch-wide seats and a bed with a down duvet and pillows.

The per-passenger price to fly round trip from LAX to Singapore in a suite? About $13,600, plus taxes.

As for me and food and time the UCLA Travel Agency requested kosher food for me but forgot to mention it. The flight attendant came to me and said, "You requested a kosher meal?" I told her I hadn't. She came back a few minutes later with the list and there was my name with "kosher" next to it. I think ham sandwiches was on the menu for everyone else.

Eric said...

*in the animated voice of a 1920's reporter*

Well, I want an airline to have a large smoking room where passengers can light up a pipe. In fact, maybe they should just have a big luxury house that flies around. A big luxury house with lots of room for relaxing, with a scotch bar, a yard, maybe a picket fence, and maybe some neighbors too.

And I don't want to have to pay an extra fee for the luggage, see?

Anne said...

That was before they tried to pack as many people as possible into a plane. Now, they can fit 4 people into space for one.

Lisa B. said...

Last two flights of mine there was no meal, just complimentary peanuts! lol

I passed an award onto you:

Bill said...

Ah, back when flying was glamorous! Not like today, where a school bus would provide more luxury.
Passengers used to dress up then, too, to do their part. Today, people roll out of bed, then roll in dirt, and then head to the airport.

Anonymous said...

Ummm... that looks almost *exactly* like the last airplane meal I had. Cathay Pacific economy class, SFO to Hong Kong.

You can't get that kind of service on domestic runs, but as soon as you cross an ocean, it's 1950 again.