“Would you like Bailey’s or Cognac?”
That is not a phrase I’m used to hearing on the back side of a plane very often. I also never get asked more than once during the dinner service (remember those?) if you would like red or white wine, sparkling water or flat, coffee or tea.
For the attendants on Lufthansa, Germany’s national carrier, these questions and more sounded rote. Conversely, I felt like I was being asked out. Once they handed me real metal flatware (including a metal spork) I was smitten. The Germans managed to nestle me into that sweet spot between a good restaurant and a comfortable hotel which is what flying used to resemble. But over the last ten years or so flying has just been purgatory.
And what of the food? It’s nice to know that whomever is slinging the hash at Lufthansa HQ can appreciate that everyone on the plane has at least moderately functioning taste buds. We despise having to decide what is going to taste better the pre-packaged alleged food served to us or the package itself.
On that particular flight, I chose chicken over pasta. Once I peeled back the warm foil lid, I was delighted to see a familiar substance tenderly cooked in a marsala type sauce, lightly covered with a flurry of rice. To the right were vegetables that were moist and tender without being an unintelligible mush. The side salad was a stand-out opening act. It was not the usual iceburg lettuce shavings and limp tomatoes. It was deep green broccolini (not a normally cheap veggie, Stateside) and red peppers with a tasty ginger dressing. Desert was real whipped cream and half a strawberry slice atop a sliver of chocolate brownie. Cheese, butter and a spongy, rosemary studded roll rounded the tray out. It was real food, I tell you, and I didn’t have to play my usual game of ingesting the lesser of edible evils.
Is a similar experience, even without the rosemary roll, so much to ask for? Are you listening Continental? Delta? USAir? For the amount you pay for an airline ticket you would think being fed something more substantial than over-sugared trail mix would be a given. When I occasionally purchase a bus ticket from New York to DC for twenty dollars, I expect nothing more than the bump and grind of the road. But for a flight between the same two cities, costing exponentially more, I’ll still get the bump and grind and a serving size of pretzels that a first grader would get in their lunchbox. To receive the exact same food service on an American carrier that I received on Lufthansa would have cost me five times that of a coach ticket and would have been deemed “First Class.”
My Lufthansa experience is a common one for an American flying abroad. Nothing new there. What was uncommon was that my personal screen wouldn’t work at all. I could not monitor our little graphic plane flying towards Munich or check out their romantic comedy offerings. When I summoned the flight attendant, she offered to re-set all the monitors on the plane just for little old me. I doth protested, but admittedly, not too much. An hour or so later, it still wasn’t working. Following behind her the second time was a man in a dark blue coat with stripes on his shoulder. Not sure he was the captain but certainly a first mate or someone of higher authority. He apologized profusely and offered to rewire the damn plane to get it to work.
In the end, nothing worked and I had to steal glances of whatever Matthew Mcconaughey was doing on someone else’s screen. Regardless, a more than valiant effort was attempted to create a first-class entertainment experience rivaling that of my dinner one. And in case you were wondering, I went with the cognac.
WHAT: the paper remains of my breakfast meal
WHEN: June 1, 2012
WHERE: Lufthansa, Flight 411, Somewhere over the Atlantic