The more I fly, the more I'm convinced that the true wonder of modern aviation is the transformation of tasteless particles into something known as airplane food -- the mystery cuisine we wouldn't touch on the ground and causes in-flight passengers to salivate like Pavlov's dog when the cart rolls down the isle. I marvel at 12-hour-old omelets that are fluffier than one right out of my own frying pan and microwaved steaks that glisten with perfect "grill marks." Despite what airlines would like you to believe, airplane food is created by scientists and accountants, not chefs. Their mandate is to alleviate boredom and hunger, not tingle the taste buds of a captive audience.
This summer, squatters rights in cattle class for a flight between North America and Europe will average about $700. Just out of eyesight, the passengers in business and first class will pay thousands more dollars for a few glasses of champagne, fresh baked cookies and a dressed-up version of the same slop they're serving in economy. Sure the extra leg room and attentive service is nice when someone else is footing the bill. But when we're talking about spending your own cash, forget about it.
If you're a champagne flier traveling on a honey-roasted-peanut budget, make a difference you can actually taste with my $25 upgrade. This self-styled upgrade lets you enjoy your favorite comfort foods and leaves you with money to burn once you've arrived at your destination.
Here's the drill.
Before a long flight, pack a bag with the following:
* A take-out dinner from your favorite restaurant (e.g. Chinese) or purveyor of fine foods. Call in advance and pick it up en route to the airport.
* A selection of your favorite snacks, such as candy bars, fresh-baked cookies, nice ripe fruit, trail mix, mints, gum, gummy bears, etc. If you have any spare room in your bag, pack a couple extra chocolate bars, too. They make great in-flight currency and will go a long way in helping to maintain your well-feathered nest.
* Your favorite herbal or specialty tea bags (just ask for hot water).
* A bottle of water.
* A 16 ounce container of freshly-squeezed orange juice. Only the finest bars in town use the real stuff in their drinks. Even the passengers in first class will be quaffing concentrated orange juice with their cocktails. Order a vodka and ice or a champagne split, and mix yourself a heavenly concoction.
* If you're on an overnight flight, bring a fresh tropical fruit smoothie for breakfast (available at larger grocery stores). When the flight attendants have finished vogueing through their emergency evacuation procedures, ask one of them to put it on ice until the morning. Your cotton mouth will thank you.
When going through security, never put your food on the x-ray belt. They may claim it's perfectly safe, but that's what was said about agent orange and asbestos. If you stand your ground, eventually one of the wand-waving guards will oblige you with a hand check. Your dinner and your future unborn children will forever be indebted.
Once on board, there's no need to conceal your carry-on cuisine from the flight attendants -- a gourmet picnic is guaranteed to win you instant respect as a seasoned traveler. Out of consideration for your fellow passengers, a certain code of etiquette should be adhered to at meal time. It's one thing for your cabin mates to ignore the wafting aroma of Szechwan garlic prawns, but don't expect your fellow flyers to restrain themselves on an empty stomach. To avoid an ugly food fight at 30,000 feet, wait until those seated around you have been served before unpacking your bounty.
After dinner, build yourself an airplane blanket cocoon, slip on your headphones and retreat into your own private world for the duration of the flight.
Now, if I can just find a place to plug in my blender. . .