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Adventures in airplane cuisine

Ah the joys of international cuisine – especially on airplanes.

On a recent trip from Tel Aviv to Manchester, NH, I had the ultimate airplane food experience.

You see, on a trip like this (Tel Aviv to London to Dulles (Wash DC) to Manchester), you can expect to spend an entire day in airplanes and airports. That means that you’re stuck eating airplane food and/or grossly overpriced fast food at the terminal. If you bother to try and bring anything resembling real food with you on an international flight, plan on having it taken away at the first security and/or customs checkpoint.

Having resigned myself to a day of Bad Food, I figured I;d make the best of it, and request kosher meals o the flights. For those of you not in the know, the kosher meals are almost always a lot better than the normal airplane fare. There are a couple of noted exceptions (British Airways is one), but they are rare.

So, come breakfast time (Tel Aviv to London – about 5.5 hours of airtime), I get breakfast. Things are looking up. While everyone else if facing some sort of quiche sandwich, I’ve got a hot cheese omelet, fresh bagel, cream cheese, fruit and orange juice. Nice. For a while.  They say payback is a bitch, and this time, I got paid back in spades. Apparently, there was something a bit dodgy in my breakfast, because a half hour after eating, I was feeling a bit queasy. This in itself is rather unusual. Having traveled extensively in the third world, and having done my time in both the army and college dining halls, it takes a lot to get my stomach going. Whatever was in breakfast did it. After a quick dash to the lavatory (try that sometime on an airplane), and a few minutes returning my breakfast, I felt like crap. Major crap. Apparently, I looked like crap too, because as I staggered back towards my seat (being incapable of anything resembling a dash, or even normal airplane stumble) one of the stewardesses asked me if I was OK.

I explained that I wasn’t feeling to well, and she helped me to my seat, then spent the next 3 hours trying to keep me supplied with barf backs, napkins and water,as well as periodic assistance to get back to the bathroom to attempt to clean myself up. She also had the grace to find other seats for the people sitting next to me, for which I am eternally grateful.

On arrival at Heathrow (London) airport, they took me directly to the infirmary, where they decided that I had definitely got a good case of some sort of food poisoning. Apparently, it was a blessing that my system decided to purge so quickly. According to the doc that was taking care of me, it was very likely that whatever it was that hit me didn’t get the chance to make into my lower GI, so my emissions didn’t expand to the nether regions. I hate to think of taking a long flight with a major case of the trots. In any case, they were very nice, and sent someone off to arrange for ensuring that my connections were still on time (I had a 4 hour layover at Heathrow), and did a very nice job of taking care of me. Meaning that they ran a bunch of tests, made sure I had quick access to a basin, and made soothing noises. For some reason, the Brits seem to be extremely good at soothing noises and compassion. Not sure how, but they are. They were cute too. I think next time I need to spend time in hospital, I’ll see what I can do about getting to the UK…

Anyway, they offered to keep me overnight to see if I would improve, but I didn’t really want to – I wanted to be home. Instead, they offered to dose me up so that I would pass out for the next leg of my trip (from London to DC – 7 1/2 hours of airtime), and hope that I’d feel better by then. They escorted me through the security checks (easiest check I’ve been through in years), helped me onto the plane, and tucked me in. They even managed to make sure I had 2 adjoining seats so I could lie down. I felt kinda bad about that, because I know there was a bunch of people on standby, but I wasn’t going to argue…

The flight crew were great on this leg too. Whenever I woke up to turn over (probably about once an hour – those seats just are not meant to hold a 6’2″ person), they would be right there with a cup of ice and ginger ale, and asking if there was anything I wanted. When I finally woke up more or less for real, there was still about an hour left in the flight. I was actually feeling more or less human. The flight crew came up with a can of kosher chicken broth (I can only imagine that someone onthe ground planned ahead, because I can’t imagine that is anormal airplane stock item), and some toast. I nibbled, it stayed down, and I felt increasingly more human.

I managed the connection through Dulles with only minor assistance, and by the time I got to Manchester, I was tired, but feeling more or less OK. I even ate the snack on the flight.

So, all told, not the most fun I’ve ever had on a long plane flight, but I have to hand it to the staff all along the way – I’ve never been treated better (at least not in an airport/airplane). No matter how cold, impersonal, and detached they may be for “normal” passengers, the entire set of people I dealt with – 3 sets of air crew, ground and medical crew at Heathrow and Ground Crew at Dulles – were wonderful.

The really surprising thing: the Bad Breakfast was on BMI – an airline that normally has very good food and service. The last 2 legs of my flight (London to DC to Manchester) were on United – an airline that I’ve had innumerable problems with, and who have always been my last choice. I can’t blame BMI (too much) – mistakes happen, and because the food was kosher, it was double sealed, so all they do is pop it into the microwave, and serve (still sealed). United, however, has completely redeemed itself. I can deal with the “normal” treatment (no matter how unpleasant it may be) knowing that when it really matters, they are amazing.

So, to any of you who may be airline or airport crew: my thanks. To those of you who fly, I hope you never end up in a situation like this, but if you do, I think you’re in for a pleasant surprise (if such a thing is possible in those circumstances)…

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