Photo of the Day (06.07.10)

People like to gripe about airplane food. It’s been fodder for comedians (not all of them funny) for years. People complain about how it tastes. They bitch about it being too hot or too cold. It’s chewy. It’s difficult to cut with plastic cutlery. And, now, it just plain costs too much since airlines have stopped serving free meals. Oddly, though, I love airplane food. I enjoy how compartmentalized it is. How I’m eating a full meal nearly six miles above the surface of the Earth. How I get to put a huge chunk of cheese on one tiny cracker. That’s why I love this picture by Flickr user andreakw. There’s no judgment here. No hacky jokes about airplane food. Just a simple meal served six miles above the surface of the Earth. And, perhaps alarmingly, no chunks of cheese.

Why not share your favorite memories of airplane meals in the comments below?

Have a an amazing meal you enjoyed on the road? Or maybe just some delightul travel photos? Upload them to our Flickr pool and we use one for a Photo of the Day.

Airlines try for more edible food options

Let’s not even bother with the jokes – we all know airplane food is awful. But these days, with most carriers looking for new sources of revenue, several of the major airlines have been stepping up the quality and taste factor of their on-board food offerings.

The days of free (and terrible) airplane meals are coming to an end. With Continental, the last carrier to offer complimentary in-flight meals, discontinuing its free service this fall, the in-flight meal industry is ramping up to better serve customer demand. Airlines ranging from Air Canada to United and American are shuffling their food offerings, realizing that if customers have to pay for it, it better bear some resemblance to something edible. Air Canada is introducing healthier food options like veggie sandwiches and yogurt, American Airlines is partnering with Boston Market and United Airlines will be letting customers pre-order in-flight meals before the end of 2010.

So will customers find these new in-flight food options more enticing? Not necessarily. Many frequent travelers have given up finding food on board, opting instead for the array of food options in the terminal like Cibo Express, Wolfgang Puck Express and the ever-popular fast food vendors. But for those looking for tasty, quality food to go with their air travel, keep looking. A top-notch meal on the plane or even at the airport remains a fantasy.

11 tips for sleeping on planes

I have been blessed with the gift of being able to sleep on virtually any moving vehicle. I’ve slept in large airplanes, small propeller planes, trucks on unsealed roads, cars, trains and boats. I sleep without the help of drugs, herbal supplements or any other gimmicks. I find my seat and my brain seems to decide, “Hey, this is going to be boring; let’s just skip it.” Several hours later, I wake up as my plane is on final approach.

My personal record for continuous sleep on a plane is 11.5 hours on a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Granted, that was in first class on V Australia, so the conditions were optimal. But my coach class record is 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep on a flight from Detroit to Tokyo. I followed that up with a 2.5 hour nap later in the flight. I would say that, on average, I spend 85% of my time on airplanes in an unconscious state. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, how do I do it? Well, if I could guarantee a solid slumber on a flight, I’d be hosting an infomercial right now selling the Mike Method for two easy payments of $49.95. Sadly, I think I am just lucky that I can sleep anywhere. However, there certainly are a few things that you can do to create an environment more conducive to sleeping on a plane (or any mode of transportation, really).1. Relax
Whether you’re on your way to an important meeting for work, visiting your in-laws or just going on vacation, the act of transporting yourself from one place to another can, in and of itself, be stressful. The same things that keep you awake at home – stress, anxiety, pressure – will keep you awake on the plane. Clear your mind and sleep is more likely to come.

2. Remove Contact Lenses
I always fly with my contacts out and my glasses on. Plane air is dry and sleeping with your contact lenses in is never fun. I’m much more apt to fall asleep if my contacts are out and my eyes are comfortable. In fact, when I’m ready to go to sleep, I take my glasses off and clip them on my shirt. They’re close by for when I wake up, but without them my body knows that it’s time power down.

3. Familiar Music
An iPod (or other portable music device) is a great way to block out the noise around you. But for optimal results, create a playlist purely for sleeping. Fill it with music that is soothing (for you) and, most importantly, very familiar to you. If you listen to music that is new to you, your brain will stay active trying to pay attention to the unfamiliar stimuli. Find some comfort music that you know backwards and forwards so that your brain can listen to it on autopilot. I have a playlist on my iPod entitled “Sleep.” I’ve listened to that 400+ song playlist on countless flights over the years. It has changed minimally and the moment it starts, my mind begins to shut off.

4. Earplugs/Noise-Canceling Headphones
If music isn’t your thing, simply block out the noise with good old-fashioned foam earplugs or new-fangled noise canceling headphones. Whatever you need to block out the crying babies, sniffling germ-carriers and endless announcements from the flight crew about how the in-flight entertainment system needs to be reset.

5. Dress Comfortably
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT SWEATPANTS IN PUBLIC ARE SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE! However, packing a change of clothes for long flights can be very helpful. If you don’t want to carry around a pair of pajama pants, wear an outfit that is comfortable and breathable. Bring layers so that you can handle whatever the plane’s climate control system throws at you. And take off your shoes when nap time comes. But trust me, put them back on when you visit the toilet.

6. Have a Drink
Notice that I said a drink. Drink too much and you’ll only guarantee yourself numerous trips to the lavatory and some fitful half-sleep followed by dehydration and a headache. If one glass of wine makes you drowsy, don’t feel bad. Just don’t let that one drink turn into a party at 35,000 feet.

7. Travel Pillows
This is going to shock many of you, but I do not use a travel pillow. At least not on planes. But I know more than a few people who swear by them. If you’re one of those people, find one that works for you and stick with it. The more you make it a part of your routine, the more likely you are to get comfortable with it.

8. Sit With Friends
Every little creature comfort can help when you’re not used to sleeping on planes. Having friends around you rather than strangers may help you relax and get comfortable. Plus, you won’t feel bad if your snoring keeps your husband awake. He probably deserves it.

9. Sleep Masks
Again, this one isn’t in my toolkit, but it may work for you if you are easily distracted or are a very light sleeper. Sure, you’re going to look like a moron, but if you need to block out everything in order to sleep, then you need to make sensory deprivation your top priority. What’s more important to you: Looking cool in front of people you will never see again or arriving at your destination well-rested?

10. Pack Snacks
Many people eschew sleep out of fear that they will miss the in-flight meal. While microwaved chicken is pretty underwhelming, it is often the only substantial meal you’ll receive on a long-haul flight. Pack a few filling snacks (ie, trail mix, dried fruit, a sandwich or Handi-Snacks) and you can eat whenever you stomach desires. Once you’re not held hostage by the flight’s feeding schedule, you’ll be able to relax, sleep and wake up to a treat of your own choosing.

11. Sleeping Pills
Call me a purist, but I consider sleeping pills and herbal supplements to be cheating. However, if you genuinely cannot fall asleep naturally and truly need to sleep on a flight, then I suppose I can understand going the pill-popping route. But I will put an asterisk next to your name in the record books.

It’s not rocket science, but falling asleep on planes can be challenging for some people. Hopefully these tips help you drift off to your happy place rather than enduring the mundanity of air travel. Your mileage may vary, and I can’t guarantee that you’ll be a plane sleeping machine like me, but utilizing some or all of these suggestions should help you get comfortable and sleep through almost any flight.

Do you have your own method for falling asleep on planes? Any tricks worth sharing? Drop us a line in the comments.


Best. Airplane food. Ever.

So, remember the Airplane Food vs. Army Food Gadling challenge, where you had to try and guess which photos were of airplane food and which were of army food? I totally failed. It was 50/50 and I totally failed.

Well, on a related note, Lufthansa has teamed up with The Ritz-Carlton to bring you the best airplane food ever. How do I know this? I tried it at their party on Monday.

The Ritz-Carlton and Lufthansa held a fete in downtown NYC on Monday, just hours after the outrageous Air Force One photo op disaster. Everyone had calmed down and was ready to tuck into a glass of wine and, surprisingly, airplane food.

The night was catered by none other than the Ritz-Carlton chefs who were called upon to create Lufthansa’s new First and Business Class menus. I spoke with chef Andres Jimenez (above, center, photo by Atom Lark), the executive chef from the Ritz-Carlton Denver, about how much like a cooking show challenge the assignment was! Keeping the ingredients fresh, making sure they taste right at high altitudes, being able to mass produce them well, and staying in budget were all concerns. And what to serve? “It’s not really the place to take a risk,” he said. “They want something that will appeal to everyone.”

Presentation is a difficult issue on an airplane, too. Senior Vice President of Product and Brand Management for the Ritz-Carlton added that there’s the whole problem of gravity. “You could arrange these dishes perfectly, but then when the airplane takes off, they’re all sliding to the back of the cooler at 45 degrees.” I asked Chef Jimenez if they train the staff on presentation. “We trained the staff who trains the staff,” he said and smiled.

Everyone seemed quite proud of what the chefs had come up with, and as they recreated it for us there in the Financial District at the three level loft home of Barry Appelman (who I understand is the father of AOL Instant Messenger and the buddy list — and thusly the grandfather of Facebook and Twitter) and Ildiko Sragli, I think we were all very, very impressed.

Wolfgang Mayrhuber, Chairman of the Executive Board and Chief Executive Officer of Lufthansa German Airlines was one of the first to take the microphone from the cool post-mod cover band and welcome the guests. “Life is too short to eat bad food, and life is too short to drink bad wine.”

For pictures of Mayrhuber and also Simon Cooper, President and Chief Operating Officef of The Ritz-Carlton, as well as pictures of the food, the guests, and one amazing apartment, click through the gallery (photos by Atom Lark).

Airline snacks: bad for you?

Airline snacks have moved beyond peanuts and pretzels (although there’s no shortage of either on flights), but are they better or worse for us than the salty standards?

Charles Stuart Platkin analyzed nine U.S. airlines’ snacks, and at first glance the results weren’t as depressing as I expected. United Airlines got 4.5 stars out of an available 5 on Platkin’s health scale. The snacks most airlines serve are far better than the free meals of old, he reports, which are “worse than a McDonald’s Big Mac, fries and shake” combined.

Platkins studied an airline’s variety of food, nutritional value, calorie count and the airlines’ willingness to provide nutritional information. What’s crazy is that United Airlines’ top-scoring snack — which is “vegetarian-friendly, trans-fat-free,” and contains granola, organic peach applesauce, cheddar cheese and other items — has 810 calories.

810 calories! In a “healthy” snack. If that’s the good news, I don’t think I can handle the bad news. If you can, read the rest of the article here.

Thanks to Steven Yuen-Pak Liu on Flickr for the photos of his not-so-nutritious American Airline’s snack pack.