Are airline passengers’ eating habits worse than ever?

Dear Mr. Morals: I recently started flying again after a long break from travel during the pandemic. Is it just me, or have passengers’ eating habits ever gotten worse? How do I avoid being that person?

(Mealtime with Mister Manners is a weekly column that delves into many dining etiquette dilemmas. Please submit your questions at the bottom of this page.)

Anyone looking for an excellent example of impeccable dining etiquette is advised to look somewhere other than heaven. Trapped in impossibly cramped seats on full-capacity flights, bus cabin passengers across the United States feel more like commuters on the Tokyo metro than they are on a luxury ride.

When you consider that no passenger outside of first or business class is likely to have the sustenance that requires a fork and knife, it’s no wonder travelers are taking matters into their own hands. Literally.

Like hikers tossing on the back of a bag of provisions for an uphill climb, we take personal responsibility for our food and satisfaction on board. tacos and a tablet for our kids; lox and a laptop for us adults. Playing all this with the aplomb of the discomfort of the middle seat and drawer table that barely fits on your MacBook Air? Good luck and God bless you.

The difference in service is evident even at the front of the aircraft. “I traveled on a business trip from New York to Los Angeles in March 2020 and said the same flight on the same airline this month,” he said. Zach Griff, a senior reporter at The Points Guy. The pre-pandemic menu included “a choice of bread, a plate of cheese, a multi-course meal, and a sundae”. A little more than two years later, his options had shrunk dramatically: “No menu, only a pre-cooked meal and no dessert.”

Fascinating disappearance

For older millennials, this stands in stark contrast to the hearty meal service of yesteryear. Julie Ann Vista, a New York-based flight attendant with three decades of experience in one of the nation’s largest carriers, remembers the magic of serving dinner in the clouds during her early years in the industry, particularly in first class on international flights.

Flight attendant Julie Ann Festa, a 30-year veteran of the skies, is always ready to take off.Courtesy Julie Ann Vista

“On trips to Brussels, London, and Paris, to name a few, we’d have a three-tiered wagon with caviar, blini, and toast,” she recalls. On the heels of the caviar comes another cart with fresh ingredients (including lobster) for salads made to order.

In movie-worthy scenes that would otherwise have been titled “steaks on a plane,” the hosts then carve garnishes like chateaubriand, serving slices to each passenger’s liking from a cutting board.

“Next, we will present a cheese tray with toothpick flags on it that represents the point of origin of each pick,” she recalls. And don’t even let it begin with sweets or champagne flutes arranged on a credenza sparkling with fresh roses. “It was beautiful. Everything felt like a real restaurant.”

Soon after the turn of the millennium, Vista began to see subtle changes: the shrimp cocktail disappeared; Plastic cups appeared. Nowadays, she notes sarcastically, “We’ve gone from choosing the perfect soup to just nuts.”

Even when passengers want to buy food on board, Vista said, they may still be out of luck. “By the time we get to the eighth row of the main cabin, we’re often selling sandwiches, fruit, and other things we buy,” she admitted.

BYO . status

Given the scaled back of food service, the scarcity of the a la carte menu, and the potential for flight delays or cancellations, Festa is a big proponent of bringing passengers their own food on board.

As is Julie Melnick, founder of SkySquad, a company created to make the flying experience less stressful for passengers. “Traveling can be stressful,” she says. “Hunger makes it worse.”

On-the-go entrepreneur Julie Melnik saw a market to provide passengers with personal assistance at the airport.  Her company, SkySquad, is now in seven locations across the United States
On-the-go entrepreneur Julie Melnik saw a market to provide passengers with personal assistance at the airport. Her company, SkySquad, is now in seven locations across the United StatesCourtesy Julie Melnick

Her startup, founded in 2019, helps travelers who need an extra set of hands at the airport. From single parents with children to silver-haired seniors, the company’s clients pay a flat fee to help with everything from printing boarding passes to checking bags, going through security and, eventually, getting to their gate with enough food to keep them satiated until they arrive. their destination. With a team of 79 security-qualified gig economy workers on standby, SkySquad operates at seven airports nationwide.

Whether you’re ferrying food from home or planning a shopping trip worth scanning at the supermarket once inside the station’s safe zone, the experts I interviewed provided several essential reminders to observe dining etiquette as soon as you fly.

nose knows

“If you bring kimchi on a plane and you’re not on Korean Air, you’re a horrible person,” Richard Voss, culinary historian, lecturer, and author of the 2014 book “Food in Air and Space” joked. “If you brought Époisses cheese and it wasn’t on Air France, the same applies.”

Food in Air and Space author Richard Foss aboard a restored DC-3 at the Flight Path Museum and Learning Center at LAX.
Food in Air and Space author Richard Foss aboard a restored DC-3 at the Flight Path Museum and Learning Center at LAX.Courtesy of Richard Foss

Melnik herself remembered the plane trip when she happily ate a batch of homemade rice with coconut curry. She was in her glory until a whiff of her companions caught her and gave her what she described as a “terrible death stare that lasted all the way”.

For anyone unable to resist the temptation of a kitchen that might lean on the pungent side—like a tuna sandwich or a hard-boiled egg—Grif advises asking for your seatmates’ blessing first.

annoying noises

Another sensory violation that the occupants may commit is of an acoustic nature. With music playing on headphones, flyers can fail to perceive the sonic range of their chewing, lip smacking, and puckering bags, Vista said.

A bag of chips should not be chewed thoughtlessly until the end of the half-flight. She pleaded, “In all likelihood, they’re watching a movie, and don’t even realize how slowly and loudly they’re eating. Eat it and finish it”—feelings she naturally keeps to herself.

Spills and chills

With the perilous possibility of a passenger suddenly lying down in front of you or experiencing some unexpected turbulence, it’s best for passengers to be proactive to avoid spills — on themselves, or worse, on their fellow seat. “Finish it fast,” Gref advised. Putting a cup of juice or coffee on the plane means “less chance of sprinklers to land on me”.

If it's new and new to the world of aviation, Zach Griff, a senior correspondent for The Points Guy, is here to cover it.  With no exaggeration, he says he's always on the move, preferably in the sky.
If it’s new and new to the world of aviation, Zach Griff, a senior correspondent for The Points Guy, is here to cover it. With no exaggeration, he says he’s always on the move, preferably in the sky.Courtesy of Zach Griff

Greve also suggests making a small hole in the spice packets as they rise rather than opening them. This reduces the possibility of the ketchup or salad dressing exploding due to pressure. And for those who inadvertently douse their class in a sparkling soda or a salad dressing rather than a T-shirt?

“It happens all the time,” Vista said. “Own it, apologize and rang on the light of the call. We will gladly come to help.”

Stay seated while serving the meal

With aisles nearly as narrow as the rows themselves, the planes are not designed to migrate and mingle. At least during meal service.

“If you want to disturb as many people on the plane as possible, choose a window seat, wait until the meal carts are already in the aisle, and then decide you should use the bathroom in the back of the plane,” Voss said. .

“You’ll push the two people next to you into the aisle and into the carriages. Then you’ll have to pressure the flight attendants to get to the toilet.”

“People might think we don’t want to move,” Vista said. “The truth is that loaded beverage carts weigh anywhere from 75 to 125 pounds and are difficult to push back and forth.” It therefore advises passengers, when possible, to get up from their seats before or after serving the meal.

Compassion and thought go a long way

“You are in a metal tube soaring above the sky, close to many strangers,” said Voss. “I don’t care if you’re the most experienced commercial pilot in the world – on some level you feel the discomfort you’re suppressing, and that makes you more inclined to be irritable and irritable.”

Having the mind to give some behavioral leeway to your fellow passengers will go a long way. They may have all kinds of stresses and pressures that are not clearly visible. “Just be nice,” Vos added, “and I hope they respond to you in the same way.”

Sharing means caring

In a moment I will long remember, shortly after the pandemic subsided, I was sitting in a row with a passenger who spoke only Spanish. While we were exchanging pleasantries in her mother tongue, she reached into her bag and produced a bright clementine, offering me one.

As we each dropped our masks to enjoy citrus fruits that tasted fresh as if they had just been plucked from a tree rather than a bag, I thought about the fact that even without plates, utensils, or fancy linens, we were humans sharing the simplest and most satisfying meals.

Through the power of the food, the communication wall fell. All without lowering my drawer table.

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