Q: Do crews eat the same terrible food as the rest of us?
Yes. Sometimes it’s a coach meal, sometimes a first or business class setup, or maybe a little bit of each. Or, often enough, nothing, even when passengers are fed. It depends on the duration of flight, and often there are contract stipulations covering a crew’s culinary entitlements. One regional carrier was giving Subway sandwiches to its pilots on otherwise uncatered flights. And yes, to avoid food poisoning pilots are supposed to consume separate entrees when possible.
Honestly, I’ve never had a problem with airline food the way most people seem to. And in the forward cabins the cuisine is quite good. My issue is less with taste than with the often pretentious, excessive, and wasteful presentation. In a typical coach class meal, there is more plastic, in the form of cups and wrappers, than food.
Looking back at some career lowlights again: among the greatest woes of flying turboprops at the regional level, in addition to making 14 grand a year, was lack of access to food. When late or pressed for time, we were routinely denied meal breaks even during 10 or 12-hour stretches. To combat starvation, many of us brought our own food. There’s a takeout place near Logan International called Spinelli’s, that for a few years provided chicken parm sandwiches in exchange for most of my pathetic salary. I’d eat these in the cockpit on the way to Burlington or Baltimore or Montreal. Our turboprops had no door or curtain, and passengers would watch their captain sopping himself and his white polyester shirts.
This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.