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Airplanes Are My Favorite Restaurants

Airplane food gets a bad reputation, but I struggle to see the problem with being waited on for stretches of seven to eleven hours on a transatlantic flight doing nothing aside from watching rom-coms and every so often wiggling your toes as a half...

Over the past three years I've spent a lot of time in the air. Living between Los Angeles and New York while visiting home (London) as often as I could meant I was a regular member of the mile high dining club. And I loved every single meal I've had up there in the clouds.

Airplane food gets a bad reputation, but I struggle to see the problem with being waited on for stretches of seven to eleven hours on a transatlantic flight doing nothing aside from watching rom-coms and, every so often, wiggling your toes as a half-arsed preventative measure against DVT. A recent article complained about the quality of modern in-flight meals, pointing out that recycled air means plane food relies too much on heavily seasoned sauces to combat dryness. This, it says, coupled with a dulling of the senses and tastebuds—the peril of a pressurized cabin—makes for a uninspiring dining experience.

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I strongly disagree.

Firstly, who in their right mind doesn't love sauce? Even if it is advertised as one made out of shit. It's what makes food sexy. A seductive frippery, sauce is food's sexy knickers—not wholly necessary, but a nice surprise when you see it. Airline meat is usually slathered in the stuff, and pasta dishes come with at least double the amount you'd get were you on land. Last month, flying back to London, I had what I consider to be the finest mac 'n' cheese of my life on a British Airways flight. Big, chunky bits of perfectly cooked pasta rolled around in lashings of creamy cheese with a smattering of cheeky leeks. Were I not someone who has the utmost respect of the perfect, 35,000 feet portion sizes, I'd have asked for seconds in a heartbeat.

Plane food is always served up in exactly the right amount, you see. A hand-sized main meal, a small plastic circle of salad, a sturdy bread roll to mop up the juicy leftovers of the main event, and then the dessert, a moist cake or pot of chocolate mousse—something I'd never order on the ground, but lap up when it's given to me as I sit in 23A gazing out of the window at a part of Canada I'll never see from any other viewpoint. I'd actually go so far as to say that a tray of airline food is like the perfect, parentally prepared packed lunch, only without the fear of being forced to swap your apple tart for some shitty string cheese from a snotty seven-year-old's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox.

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Unfortunately, it's not quite as fun for the person who actually has to serve it to you. "Food is the bane of a flight attendant's existence," my aircraft steward friend tells me over email from whatever exotic location he's in. "It causes the most problems on board an aircraft on a day-to-day basis, from choices being unavailable, special meals not being catered, to a change in regular catering. Any of these can cause a normally lucid passenger to revert to a rather obnoxious infantile state."

He explains that meals are pre-prepared a month or so in advance, which may account for complaints concerning freshness. "Caterers are limited to what will look and taste good once reheated," says secret steward. "Plus, everything is prepared and coated with a lard-like fat, which means once it's reheated in a steam oven, it will give a meal an oily look and also enhance its taste." Mmm. Lard-like fat.

You might be surprised to discover that airline staff tend to eat the same food as the passengers. From the premium cabins, though, not economy. If you're after the freshest food your winged restaurant has to offer, secret steward suggests ordering the fruit platter or low-calorie meal option in advance. "If you are unlucky enough to travel with children, the best meal on the aircraft is actually the kid's meal," he adds. "Usually it's real comfort food like chicken nuggets, fish fingers, and mashed potatoes."

Comfort food is something planes have nailed, especially when it comes to the snacks. The slab of vanilla ice-cream, the packet of heavily-salted pretzels, the finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off, the plastic tub of orange juice with a tin foil lid. Then there's my personal airline holy grail: the oblong pizza in a box that's handed over on Delta's transatlantic routes mid-flight. More soggy Chicago pizza pie than millimeter-thin Bushwick chic-za, it's a gooey rectangle of joy. With its soupy tomato topping and pungent cheese layer, it's a sleepy carb blast that probably works just as well at knocking you out as melatonin. Maybe that's the point—fill everyone up with pillowy carbs and they'll conk out and give the stewards an easy ride while the Atlantic churns below.

If the food doesn't the job, though, you can always get on the booze. Not only is a plane officially the best place to drink a Bloody Mary, it's the best place to be hungover. Don't let people convince you out of drinking the night before a long flight—where else outside of your parents house can you get waited on like a little baby, watching movies while trays of neatly compartmentalized food is dumped in front of your face and then taken away half an hour later so you can try and snooze off your red wine headache?

The day I stop getting excited about being on a plane in the first place, let alone being brought what is ostensibly tarted-up baby food, will be a very sad day indeed. Here's to the most comfortable, comforting dining experience there is.