Guest Post: Eating on the Road

Guest Blogger, Brad (a.k.a Brajit) from Pop Slingers Paradise.

If you fly for an airline most places here in the United States, Crew Meals are a thing of the past.  So are having ovens, serving meals to your passengers, or having open seats in your premium cabin that would allow everybody to pick on the leftovers on that long flight.

Bringing food on the road is a difficult task, especially if you are doing multiple day trips or commute, or both!  However, over the last 9 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to find some great ideas to help keep your hunger away while working:

1. Nuts of all Types – They are full of fiber and protein to keep you feeling full and help to give you extra energy throughout those long duty days.  Eating the nuts provided on board (if you are fortunate enough to have them) is great, but if you can get to a market that sells unsalted nuts, this will be your best bet.  We all know staying hydrated in the air is a challenge and adding any excess salt to the diet just makes it that much harder.

2. Food Saver Plus Vacuum Sealer by Tilia – My family has owned one of these since they came out and they have only gotten better and easier to use every year.  The initial investment is worth it, because you can size your own bags based off the amount of food, and make bags that can fit easily into your lunch tote.  These bags are resistant enough to hold up to boiling water and are also microwave safe.  The company has also even added steamer bags for those that like to have steamed fish or veggies in your room.

3. Mainstays Foil Pans – I just recently found these at my local Wal-Mart and it is their in-house brand.  These foil tins come in two varieties that I have found so far: single compartment and dual compartment.  If you are fortunate to have access to a toaster oven or galley oven, these are GREAT!  Just remove the plastic lid, pop in your cooked (or uncooked) food until completed, and you have a hot meal on board.  They are also small enough to really pack a variety of food in your lunch tote (or bring enough to share!)  QUICK TIP: Use your Food Saver Vacuum Sealer to seal each of these individually with the lids on, to keep from making a big mess in your bag.  In a pinch, you can also boil the entire package if your oven in INOP (Inoperable).

4. Tuna and Chicken in a foil pouch – These can be found any grocery store these days and although you do pay a premium for having them neatly packed for you, they weigh less and you can fit them in every nook and cranny of your bags.  I have yet to find an airport that doesn’t have some sort of mayonnaise packets to swipe, so this is a quick and easy nosh.  (And if you can stomach eating it without mayonnaise, you can cut the fat!)  Also, if you have an airport with a salad bar, you can save on the heavy meat and just get some lettuce and mushrooms and bell peppers to make it even cheaper!

5. Individual Serving Vegetable Cups – These are something new I have also seen and so far have only been found in Green Beans and Corn.  They are non-perishable and need no refrigeration, and are great for a quick side item to anything you might have.  I personally crave vegetables only, and sometimes it can be difficult to find steamed veggies in an airport.  Having a cup of these, even at room temperature, can really quench a craving.  (But don’t forget to pour out the juice they are soaking in and rinse with some bottled water.  This will help reduce the amount of sodium you are eating.)

6. Dried Fruit – Bags of this stuff are easily found everywhere but my personal favorite is from Costco and is the Mango and Berry Blend.  (Wal-Mart also has a Tropical Trail Mix that I enjoy.)  Again, this is non-perishable, will last as long as you want it to, and can make an awesome salad topper in a pinch.  The dried fruit does contain some fiber and will help keep your appetite at bay on those long nights flying, and will help keep you awake on those redeye turns.

7. A Protein or Energy Bar – This is self explanatory.  You never know when you are going to be able to run off a plane to grab some meat, so having this will help make it through your day.  And, with those early show times when NOTHING is open or they are serving eggs (and who wants to eat cold eggs in the morning), this can really be helpful to make it through the day.

8. A Candy Bar – Who doesn’t like a sweet treat to end their day.  Yes, it is loaded with sugar (but there are so many sugar-free options out there these day) and sometimes you just have to take one for the team and go for it!

These are only some of the things you can do to help the hunger pains while on the road.  If you are a flight attendant, airport food can be dull and boring, day after day, week after week.  With a little foresight, you can help both your hunger and your wallet.

You can read more from Brad by visiting his blog, Pop Slingers Paradise.


The Cast of Characters

It never ceases to amaze me how people act once they get on an airplane. I’m starting to wonder if they also behave the way they do when they’re at home and if they do, how they get by in everyday life being so rude to everyone they encounter.

The cast of characters that I had on day 2  of my last 4 day trip was abundant. There was more people mad at NOTHING than I’ve ever experienced, it got me thinking about whether or not I was starring in a candid camera version of ‘Seinfeld.’

Please allow me to introduce the cast:

Mrs. Paranoia: She I met during boarding . As you all know by now, I work primarily work first class, therefore, always positioned at the boarding door. She walked on and asked if she could speak with me. I waved her into the galley and told her I was all ears. She then says:

I have a plastic bag full of surgical masks. If someone coughs or sneezes I’d like to you please remind then that we are in a time of critical awareness concerning the swine flu. Remind them to cough or sneeze into their elbows and hand them one of these.

I think my jaw hit the floor. I didn’t even know what to say! My first response was I understand you’re concerned, however, I cannot tell someone how to do something unless its safety or security related. Maybe you should wear your mask this way you can shield yourself from everyone’s germs. Well, you would have thought I asked her for her first born child. She was outraged that I would ever ask her to do that. What did she think she was asking ME to tell others?! The same thing. She then went to the main cabin and asked the FAs there to do the same thing, pass out the masks. Of course, I was able to warn them of what was coming before she got to them. They both denied her request as well.

Mr. Bad Boy: Mr. Boy arrived in his wheelchair during boarding with a grumpy face, a cane and a necklace with a battery powered medallion attached which flashed “BAD BOY.” So, jokingly, I said “so are you going to be giving us problems today?” and he said “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Of course, I thought he was playing around with me, but, he wasn’t. During service one of the main cabin F/As accidentally bumped into him while in the aisle, and quickly apologized. He very rudely yelled “EXCUSE ME! Can you be more careful next time?!”

In a different occurrence a few minutes later, I was handing the gentleman in the window seat a sandwich and answering a question he had. Mr. Boy then chimed in, again, loudly, and proclaimed “uhh excuse me I’m trying to have a conversation here!” and I said.. “Yes, I know..I am too.. and you just rudely interrupted!” Two can play this game.

Ms. Jet-Blue: Once in-flight we met Ms. JetBlue. She rang her call button while I was on my back to the first class galley.. so I attended to it. She’s seated at the window and proceeded to tell me that her seat didn’t recline. I told her it should, nothing was damaged in the cabin. She then demonstrated the fact that her seat didn’t recline by pushing in the button and rocking back and forth very forcefully trying to push the seat back. When her tantrum stopped, I asked the lady seated on the aisle if her seat reclined. She then pressed her button, and reclined. Well, the seat reclined to the same level that Ms. JetBlue’s seat was already at! A ha! Ms. JetBlue’s seat is already reclined! So I told her if you notice, you’re seat is already reclined as it’s at the same level as this seat is. Her brain couldn’t comprehend this information and was still confused. One of the FAs from the back was walking forward and as the purser, I officially juniored down the situation. ha!

Now, you’re wondering why her name is Ms. JetBlue. We’ll, when she realized her seat was reclined, she had nothing else to complain about so she had to find something. About an hour and a half later she came to the back and was holding her neck. The 3 of us looked at each other, started to crack a smile, just wondering WHAT this was going to be about. She then told me

Your headrests on your seat are so fluffy that its pushing my head forward making me point my head down which is causing my neck and back to hurt.

So I asked her if she tried to adjust it, as they are FULLY 100% adjustable. She said yes. Then she asked if all of our seats were made this way. It took everything in me to say.. Did you not notice every seat looks like yours on your way back here?!

I didn’t.. but then she said

JetBlue’s seats are so much more comfortable than yours are. This is just riciulous. My seat doesn’t recline and now its hurting my neck and back. Can you change my ticket so I can fly home on jetBlue?

Yes, ma’am, since all of the airlines in America code-share, let me just change your ticket over to one of our biggest competitors. I told her I couldn’t do that. Obviously! She was so upset that I couldn’t just move her ticket to a jetBlue flight. She tried to complain more, as if I was just holding out. Then, one of my FAs said “actually, someone just came back here and told me we have one of the most comfortable seats they’ve ever sat in!” Ms. JetBlue then returned to her seat.. that reclined and had to fluffy of a headrest.

Ms. Menu: Last, but ohhhhh so not least was Ms. Menu. We had a menu substitution on board this particular flight. The galley FA made the announcement about the menu items, and said “I’m sorry, though the menu says we have the steak sandwich on board we don’t instead we have an Italian sandwich.” Then, I re-said the announcement prior to the FAs went into the aisle for service in the main cabin, and then we made it one more time before we heard the dreaded call button. I went over to find its the woman RIGHT behind Ms. JetBlue. . . she is holding our menu in hand and told me that she wanted to order the steak sandwich. I said I’m sorry, we don’t have the steak sandwich today, instead we have an Italian sandwich. She then said “but the Italian sandwich isn’t on the menu!” I took a deep breath and said

Like we have said 4 times now, we have a menu substitution on board today, we received the sandwiches we usually receive for a Eastbound flight. Therefore, the Italian sandwich is all we have.

Finally it sunk it and I left. She ordered the sandwich and it was delivered by a FA in the back. Five minutes after that, the call button again. The same FA that delivered the sandwich returned to find the passenger complaining that the sandwich didn’t have enough italian dressing on it, and she wanted more. So, the FA explained that the sandwiches are all prepackaged with the dressings etc, we don’t get extras on board. Well, Ms. Menu packed up the sandwich and handed it over and asked for a refund because there wasn’t enough dressing and then proclaimed “and wheres my fruit and cheese box!” (which she didn’t order!) The FA said “okay, I’ll go double check and I’ll be back”

She gets to the back and tells me whats going on. I said Oh please let me go talk to her.. she’s already on my shitlist and I would love to tell her she still owes us money.

Well, the passenger leaving the bathroom overheard me say that and pointed right at me. My heart stopped because I thought she was going to get pissed that she heard me talk about a fellow passenger. Instead she said

thats awesome! you guys are awesome! I’ve been watching and listening to you deal with all these weird and crazy people and I’m going to write a letter about you guys and the great job you are doing!

She did, too. We got it already. Of course for those comments we ensured she was taken care of the remainder of the flight as well.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a group of people on a single airplane before. Lucky I was with 2 FAs whom are my friends and we were able to tag team the situations and laugh about them in the end. It should go without saying, and I’m sure you guessed it. This flight was JFK-LAX.


Crew Meals: The Love/Hate Relationship

Pilot Crew Meal

Pilot Crew Meal

At my previous airline, the pilots were the only crew members to receive meals. It was written into their contract that any flight over 3.5 hours a hot or cold meal would be provided. Of course, before giving the meal boxes to the pilots or heating up their meal (which was the worst! We had to cook THEIR meals and we couldn’t eat anything!)  we would raid their meal for items we wanted such as cookies, chocolate, snacks, etc. Sometimes, though rare, the pilot would even offer us the whole meal if they weren’t hungry.

Apparently, the flight attendant’s gave up provided meals for a $1 pay raise at the time their contract was renegotiated in 1999. I’d rather the crew meal. We could be on duty up to 14.5 hours a day, without a break to get off the plane and buy food.  I couldn’t afford to eat on my $16/hr starting pay (and that was WITH a $1 paid raise) for a mainline carrier, it barely paid the bills! However, it helped me to create my “FA4Day” Diet, but that’s another blog or another day.

Now, at my current airline we have crew meals. We fly primarily transcontinental and sometimes the flight times are well over 7 hours depending on your city pairings. My airline sells a wide variety of fresh food items and we’re permitted to select one option as a crew meal after we pass the 2 hour mark during flight. In addition, first class is boarded with 2 extra hot meals per flight. This is done to ensure those passengers not seated in the first row of first class still have shot at their preferred meal selection. However, this leaves 2 extra hot meals per flight to be consumed as crew meals. Some pilots expect to receive the hot meals, but not on my planes. I offer them to the FAs working the main cabin first, since they work the hardest out of the 5 of us.

Though its nice to know I have a meal when I’m hungry, I don’t always eat them.

Granted, after a while the same choices on every flight gets old. Part of you doesn’t want to eat it just because your sick of the selection. There is only so many turkey wraps you can eat in 4 days. Nutritiously, I try to stay away from the on board meals. Though the food is good (and my airline has won awards, they are really good!) eating the same items day in and out cannot be good for my body. I almost wish we had nutritional information on our products. It might make me feel better about eating them.

Alternatively, one of the options currently in first class is Eggplant Rollitini. I’m a sucker for Eggplant and always pray that it becomes one of the leftover choices. If it does, I always eat it. I know what you’re thinking “you’re worried about calories in the turkey wrap but your eating something loaded with cheese;” and all I can say to that is… yes. I guess I’m just more conscious of the food I’m eating now. I like to try and stay fit and ensure my uniform fits well. I don’t want to become a C/D queen (a flight attendant whose arse hits the C and D passengers while walking down the aisle.)

The aspect I didn’t expect crew meals to help was my wallet. I am higher paid now then I was at the mainline carrier, so I can afford to eat and pay bills. However, having the crew meals is also a savior for those lulls between paychecks or for when I’ve spent my mad money and don’t want to spend $15 for a cheese burger. As it is, I’m expected to spend $8 on a 4 day tipping van drivers for doing the job their supposed to do (but, I’ve already covered that [See: Tipping Your Flight Attendant]). You don’t realize how much money you can save on a 4 day by eating crew meals and not eating out. For that, I’m very thankful, and so is my savings account.

So in conclusion, though they may be higher in calories and sodium than I would like and not the most nutritious meals; they are free, taste good, and satisfy my hunger. Additionally, I am grateful to be provided a crew meal as it helps to make my per diem payments go a little bit further and I believe all airlines should provide a crew meal to flight crew working a flight over 3.5 hours.

Does your airline offer crew meals? If so, do you eat them? If no, do you want them?