Why Are In-Flight Meals so Awful?

Paris Hilton, the celebrity heiress to the Hilton hotel fortune, carries her own fast food on long-haul flights. Imagine the scene, the Hilton heiress unwrapping her soggy little meat bun in first class. It all fits in with her unique view that an heiress must behave without consistency. "In-flight meals are awful," she is reported as saying. “People sitting next to me envy my hamburger.

I don't like Hilton's humble taste in in-flight meals in the context of her extravagant lifestyle, but the one thing I agree with is that in-flight meals are awful.

Of course, some people actually like the meals served onboard. I was told the story of a former flight attendant who frequently traveled by plane simply because she missed in-flight meals so much during her pregnancy. However, most frequent flyers agree that in-flight meals are rarely palatable. So would you, faced with dry salad and soggy noodles.

Have you ever heard anyone says, "I love the bread on Air France! I wish bakeries would benchmark them?" Or, "Air-India's curry is great. I want to travel Air-India so I can have the in-flight curry?" No way. There isn't an airline in the world sells out seats thanks to its delicious in-flight meals. While you may see people queue at the opening time of a popular restaurant, no sane passenger waits for an airplane to enjoy the in-flight meal.

It is disappointing, mind, since I do like my food. No matter how little I enjoy in-flight meals, I can't pass on them, especially during long-haul flights. I once called an airline officer who was in charge of in-flight meals. The officer said in-flight meals are a special case because they have to satisfy most passengers without drawing strong approval or aversion from specific groups. For example, Asiana Airline serves rice porridge to first-class passengers. And some elderly passengers complain because it reminds them of the days when Korea was a poor country.

There are some special rules for in-flight meals. Although steaks are most delicious when heated at 75 degrees, steaks served onboard must be heated at 90 degrees due to strong hygiene rules. According to the airline officer, chefs have to make in-flight meals based on minutely accurate recipes to maintain a stable taste. Passengers also play a part in their blandness. The high altitude dulls our sense of taste, so meals have to be saltier than ordinary food. How all occasions do conspire against it!

I have come up with the in-flight meal of my dreams. What I want to eat in a dry cabin is food with some moisture, like rice porridge or dumpling soup. Actually, dumplings easily get soggy in soup, but it would be conceivable to serve soup and dumpling separately. While exchanging ideas, we shared views about in-flight meals with a unique national flavor such as Thai Airways' Pad Thai (fried noodle) or JAL's instant noodle. One chef proposed a Bulgogi sandwich with characteristic Korean fruit like mandarin orange and pear.

How about serving some herbal tea that helps people go to sleep instead of coffee, tea and green tea that can cause migraine? Also it would be nice if domestic airlines provide free snacks in a galley so hungry passengers can help themselves.

One magazine reporter said, "There is a clear reason why Singapore Airline's in-flight meals are delicious. They serve warm bread and cold salad. I think that's a basic principle for serving food." I agree. It is hard to eat cold bread with cold butter.

And please, some variety. I know bibimbap is now sometimes being served even in economy class, but unlucky passengers like me rarely get a chance to eat it.

By novelist Baek Young-ok

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 30, 2007 10:12 KST