Pre-Booked Air Travel Snacks

Pre-ordering bad airline food. Is this really what we’ve come to?

Over the years I’ve become resigned to the mediocre biscuits and instant coffee served on most flights within the US. Some airlines will even provide a full can of soda instead of the small dash of Coke in a tiny plastic cup largely populated with ice. (Ice, I might add, I consider marginally trustworthy.) Every regular flyer knows the moment when a full can of an in-flight beverage starts to feel like the height of luxury. Yes, I am that sad.

I’ve been that person who is desperate for calories of any kind after getting up far too early, racing to the airport, and dashing from one connection to the next. I’ve eaten the rubbery eggs, dried out bread rolls, and slimy olives with gusto. But I know, even as I’m grateful for something to eat, that this is the kind of food only an organization committed to squeezing every penny out of their customers, would serve.

Perhaps we do it to ourselves. After all, we hunt through the flight offerings for the cheapest flight with the shortest travel time and the fewest connector flights. We want the whole miserable experience to be as brief as possible, depositing us on the tarmac at our intended destination with the least amount of pain and suffering.

And these days, there is ample pain and suffering to be had in the experience. There is the steadily decreasing leg room, the long TSA lines, and of course all the security Kabuki designed by TSA to throw off the random shoe bomber. Think about it, all of the the TSA security is implemented because of the actions of less than a dozen people over more than twenty years. But millions of human beings are patted, scanned, carded, and generally herded like livestock because of them. It’s one of the reasons I think the species sucks. A tiny percentage of selfish criminals have created a billion dollar digital security industry that require the rest of us to create ever more elaborate passwords, which must then be religiously changed, with dual authentication and biometry just to be certain.

But I digress. Or perhaps I don’t. United has paid computer programmers a tidy chunk of money to create a system for their customers to pre-order bad food so that their online customer safety assurance staff (aka ‘flight attendants) can deliver these over-priced goodies more efficiently, and to give customers the illusion of choice. “Look, you can select from six snacks that cost 2-5 times what they’d cost at the store. Aren’t you happy in your straight-jacket of a seat that you’re stuck with if you want to attend that business meeting or spend an hour at your dying parent’s bedside?” What is truly irritating to me, is that these “snacks” are the same ones they’ve been selling for a decade. They must be okay because people are still buying them. But there’s huge difference between acceptable and desirable; one the airlines should invest some time and money in exploring. Maybe the flying experience doesn’t have to be horrible; but that means the airlines have to actually care about how their passengers feel. Right now, they clearly don’t. They just want to make it easier for their employees to get the bare minimum of service done so they can go on pretending that the passenger him/her/itself matters.

It’s also a convenient way to upsell you stuff you don’t need. Because let’s face it. We could pack some trail mix and a little bag of Trader Joe’s seasoned olives if we just thought even a day ahead. We could make a bunch of cold bologna sandwiches that would outshine the terrible airport food most concessions are peddling. But we don’t. Why? Who knows. Some of us are just bad at planning ahead. Some hate the idea of anything resembling cooking so we’d rather eat greasy soggy burritos than slap some peanut butter on a couple of pieces of bread. And some just hold onto hope that whatever sustenance the airline offers will be better than it was last time we flew. Self-delusion is an inevitable part of travel. We expect this trip to be happier, more productive, and more rewarding than the last one.

And sometimes it is. But we still don’t need “gourmet” licorice and a tapas tray of pretzels and dried fruit to make it great. We just need the right destination, the right travel partner(s), and the right people at the destination.

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