And why do so many comics bring it up? Yes, airline food sucks. But airline food is supposed to suck. Subtleties of flavor have no place past the boarding gate. And this isn’t uniquely my argument. It’s science’s. People who care enough to study this nonsense have found that our perception of taste changes well before we reach cruising altitude. The different air pressure and humidity levels onboard combine to stunt our taste buds’ ability to distinguish between sweet and salty. That high in the air, even our favorite foods would disappoint us.
So really, anyone looking for a quality meal who is foolish enough to go looking for it at 30,000 feet perhaps deserves what’s coming for them. And anyone who thinks the quality of the meal is even important deserves the gluten-free option.
Let’s not lose sight of just how complicated air travel really is. Among the myriad of logistical concerns, keeping food fresh and safe to eat becomes a high priority. Making it delicious does not. On commercial flights, pilot and co-pilot are actually required to eat entirely different meals, thus reducing the possibility of both succumbing to food poisoning. A huge majority of the time, neither meal is contaminated, though we can safely assume they’re both awful.
The lousy quality of airline food is not only to be expected, but it is also absolutely, demonstrably fine. Of all the factors that make for a good flight, concerns such as the structural integrity of the aircraft, the expertise of the pilot, the absence of both terrorists onboard and of inclement weather in the neighboring skies take top priority. Then come lesser questions of convenience and comfort, which of course include the food. But even then, it pales in comparison with other factors.
Aren’t we all happier travelers when the flight crew is friendly, or at least attractive? When our seatmates are attractive, or at least hygienic? And when the toilet facility is hygienic, or at least in working order? We all want no turbulence, no crying babies, no over-packers trying to stuff their oversized carry-ons into the overhead compartments above our heads. We want ample light, ample leg room, ample entertainment options. And we especially want the snacks we bought at the airport before boarding, anticipating the in-flight offerings to suck.
Is there anything original left to say about culinary letdowns up in the air? Or should we lay the topic to rest? Two Stand Up NY interns (and obvious experts on the subject) weigh in: