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PLANE SPEAKING

The Menu at 35,000 Feet

June 18, 2005

Those Tajiks really know how to put it away. On a flight from Dushanbe to Moscow in 2003, Tajikistan Airlines served business-class passengers a breakfast of cold meats, vegetables, assorted cheeses, hard-boiled eggs with caviar, rolls, chicken Kiev with rice, chocolate and a dish of cherries.

How do we know this? Thanks to airlinemeals.net, a website for that rarest of connoisseurs, the airline-food aficionado.

The site is made up mostly of photos of airline meals, taken mid-flight by passengers and posted on the Web along with a brief review of the cuisine. At last count there were 12,660 images from 456 airlines.

The site confirms two truisms about airline food: Yes, the people in first class really do have it a lot better. And no matter how chewy your chicken or rock-like your roll, it could always get worse. Some of the posted meals you wouldn't feed a naughty Maltese.

A visit to the site is oddly compelling, particularly in an era when many cash-strapped U.S. airlines are eliminating meal service or charging extra for box lunches.

There's a certain thrill in seeing the sometimes odd things people are served while flying to exotic places most of us will never visit, such as the bag of dried beef given out on Air Botswana.

Then again, the trend in this country is for fellow passengers to bring their own meals onboard, especially with airports increasingly resembling food courts. And no website can convey what it's like to sit next to someone on a plane who's brought along take-out Sichuan chicken when you're hungry.

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