When was the last time you ate one of your meals on an international flight?
I’m talking about steerage, because that’s the only way I can afford to travel. Always at the back of the plane, right in front of the row with the screaming babies. Forget about noise and space and think for a minute about getting to the airport the required three hours before flight time. When the dinner is finally served (about an hour and a half after departure) it’s been six or seven hours since you’ve last eaten.
On my recent flight from Washington (Dulles) to Munich, this is what I was served for dinner: a stale roll with a pad of margarine; a wilted salad probably weighing one ounce; a goop of pudding for the end of the meal and the entrée: identified as the “chicken” dinner. And that entrée? Perhaps an ounce and a half of plain white rice; two carrot slivers the size of a United States quarter; one piece of broccoli, not much bigger than the carrots; and—finally—a sliver of chicken about the length of a paper clip. All served plain, with no sauce or seasoning.
I figure that the entrée cost 1½ cents for the rice; 1 cent for the vegetables; two cents for the chicken, i.e., for a grand total for 4½ cents. Maybe with the uneatable dinner roll, the salad and the dessert another four cents; but if I am off a bit in my calculations here, it is obvious that the meal cost United Airlines no more than ten cents—and that’s being generous by any measurement. United Airlines must have spent more money on the 12 gram (less than a half an ounce) bag of pretzel sticks I was handed when I purchased my drink than what the entrée cost. Shouldn’t the pretzel money be spent on a better entrée?
Does this meal work for you after six hours without eating? Would it ease any of your hunger pangs?
I lucked out on my return flight home (from London to Washington) by ordering the exotic vegetarian dinner: yellow rice, including the odd pea mixed in it (3 cents cost); curried chick peas masala (3 cents); cooked spinach (3 cents). I estimated that that entrée cost you nine cents, but at least it had some flavor and evidence of a gourmet cook (I’m joking, of course). Since I had assumed the worst, I brought a large sandwich along on that second flight—since I didn’t see any reason to starve again—but should I be expected to do that on an expensive international flight?
So here’s my question besides concluding that meals prepared in the United States cannot actually be regarded as meals. I know these are difficult times for airlines, but on the first flight you charged me $7.00 for a small bottle of cheap Australian wine. It wasn’t even the normal split. It was a plastic bottle with a trickle of wine in it that must have cost United Airlines 25 cents. Couldn’t some of the enormous profit from that bottle of wine have underwritten a better meal? Perhaps ten additional cents, thus doubling what you are currently paying for your entrées?
Do you really think that I will fly United in the future for any international flight?
I have a proposal for you—again because I understand that you have to cut corners somewhere.
Am I correct in concluding that United Airlines agrees with the recent Supreme Court Citizens United decision? Corporations are people, yes? If that’s so, and if these are such needy days for United Airlines, why don’t you apply for food stamps? And then since you will clearly qualify on both counts (United Airlines is a people and your corporation is going hungry), take those food stamps and spend a little more on each entrée for your international flights. Not for the meals for the top one percent in First Class but those of us who have put up with the innumerable humiliations of flying third class.
What do you think? Will this work?
Let me know when I can begin flying United Airlines again.
Charles R. Larson
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.