Or not. Now that the airlines get to charge you for it, the food is pretty good, especially compared to the unrecognizable reheated mush you used to get when it was free. In a survey last year by the Airline Passenger Experience Association, seven out of 10 passengers said they like the quality and selection of in-flight food for purchase. Virgin America sells Holly Baking Company chocolate chip cookies onboard, and Jet Blue serves up a grilled chicken, Brie, arugula, and cranberry mustard sandwich on a rustic roll. A rustic roll!
“When you only make food available to people who really want it, which is exactly what happens in a baseball stadium, you’re going to have a higher-quality product, says John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist at the industry association Airlines for America.
Of course, a lot of us -- two thirds, in fact -- buy food before we fly. And that has gotten better, too. Because so many people now spend so much time in them, airports have been cramming decent restaurants into their passenger terminals. You can get sushi when you connect in San Francisco, and oyster po-boys while you’re nursing your hangover waiting for your flight in New Orleans, or sidle up to food trucks in the passenger terminal in (needless to say) Portland, Oregon. And if you can't get into the Frontera Grill in Chicago, you can just go to Rick Bayless’ restaurant at O’Hare.
Then there’s the onboard entertainment. In a far cry from the flickering TV screens showing movies somewhere at the far end of the cabin, and those grim hollow-tube plastic headphones, airlines offer live TV and movies you’d actually be interested in watching even if you weren’t stuck on a plane. Some are adding surround sound, touch screens over which their passengers can chat with people in other rows, and online business books and language courses. That’s not to mention the life-saving kids’ programming, video games, and digital shopping.
Meanwhile, the airlines are plowing their newfound profits into finally upgrading their tired fleets -- putting into service, on average, one new plane per day, every day, all with that satisfying new-car smell and even more tech and amenities.
And yet, as we fly in shiny new planes, nourished with better food, watching better movies, all for less money, we still rend our garments at the unfairness of it all.