Behold, the latest amalgamation of airline culinary experiences that you’ll find on the four major domestic U.S. airlines: American, Delta, Alaska and United.
There are so many words that can be used to describe the palpable differences among the stockpiles featured below, ranging from, “melt in my mouth, get in mah belly,” to “what exactly are you trying to be when you grow up?”
Alaska: Keep Me Hanging On?
I call this meal, “The Heart Attack.”
Not because it was fattening (well, the Risotto probably had a ton of butter in it) but in reality, I was nervous AF because of our flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Portland had encountered some of the worst turbulence I had ever experienced in my 500 + lifetime flights. Not the exciting, “ooh this is bumpy and might help me sleep” kind of turbulence, but the kind where your stomach feels like it was left 1,000 feet above you minutes prior, and you’re gripping the arm rests reciting Hail Mary.
Needless to say when I received this meal, I was simply grateful that my nerves were calming down. There wasn’t a choice on this particular flight, and of course, it was vegetarian, so you make do, I guess.
The risotto was TASTY. It had a nice flavor to it, and while the asparagus sort of didn’t make sense (the whole thing felt like it was missing a protein as the star of the show) it nevertheless added a nice, crunchy and lemon-y flavor to it. The salad was nothing impressive: carrots and caesar dressing don’t really mix well, in my opinion. I substituted my brownie crunch (although those things are bomb) for the refined carbs in the form of an olive garden breadstick. Yes, I dipped it in my risotto. No, I was not ashamed.
Overall, this meal was fine, but a protein would have been nice. Alaska, maybe Virgin can show you a few things?
Overall score: 3.5/5
American’s efforts to improve its First Class meal service are about as successful as Tomi Lahren’s tenure with Fox News. In other words, AA’s really just kind of sold itself out when it comes to meal service. Doesn’t everyone miss the pre-US Airways merger meal service that had things like skillets and pork tenderloin? Ugh. Don’t teach me how to Dougie.
Ugh. Don’t teach me how to Dougie.
Rather, feast your eyes here on the sleep-inducing Eggplant parmesan, served in First (yes, that would be First on a non-refurbed 777) from Dallas to Miami. The sheer level of carbs in this meal put me right to sleep (and this was a flight leaving on a Saturday at 6pm!)
Nobody takes a nap on Saturday evenings!
So many things are amiss here. Let’s start with the salad: the addition of sundried tomatoes (although it looks like an orange) is a nice touch, but the entire affair consisted of approximately three leaves of lettuce. The “Naturally Fresh” dressing is so tacky, IMO. This is the same dressing that they used to serve in Coach when main cabin meals were still complimentary.
To be fair, Alaska did also use the same oily, sugary, preservative-laden dressing as well…
Now, for the main: sans for the addition of a basil leaf in the center, and perhaps the zucchini and the artichoke, the main looks like it was lifted straight out of hungry man dinner. The dish wasn’t unpalatable, but it was just as equally uninspiring. It’s like basically dousing a black bean patty in the red sauce after a good ‘ol batter n’ fry. The sad sprinkles of parm looked desolate. I mean, why call a dish “Eggplant Parmesan” when there is more Parm in the salad than the main course?
The dessert (not pictured) was the de-facto choco chip cookie. Nothing to write home about here.
Score: 2.5 out of 5.
Delta: Don’t Judge a Book
As a disclaimer, this was a meal served on a regional flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Detroit. I wasn’t expecting anything more than a salad or a sandwich, so I may have just been given the Endeavor Air rhapsody dba Delta whatever it was.
While there wasn’t a choice today, the choice was at least more inventive and versatile than I thought possible. The salad came with Quinoa, Chicken Breast, Oranges and Fennil. Body-builder friendly hashtag EatCleanFlyDelta
The “appetizer” consisted of some crackers and the dessert was hipster “molasses clove” cookie which was made by some company called, “Dancing Deer.” Props to you, Delta for thinking outside of the box! Granted, there are probably no hot ovens on a CRJ-700, but #DeltaMakesDo.
Interestingly, the salad did not come with any dressing, but I suppose that the purpose of the salad was to blend the ingredients together to enjoy the taste of the flavors as one unit. A “marriage” of palates, if you will.
So I wound up doing what I almost never do in a restaurant, much less on an airplane and used the pepper and salt shakers to add some flair to it.
My future, clean-eating self (who exists in my guilty conscience and failing moral compass) was thankful for this meal.
I downed it with several rounds of scotch and enjoyed several packets of lukewarm Tillamook cheese in the Detroit Delta SkyClub 90 minutes later when I was hungry again…
Score: 4 out of 5.
Sun Country: You Should Have Merged with Alaska
Here’s my theory: if Alaska had bought Sun Country instead of Virgin America (maybe that’s next on the list?) then EVERYTHING would have been perfect.
Sun Country scored major points with being the only carrier to offer a distinct appetizer service separate from the main meal, starting with a cheese and crackers plate with three (yes three!) cheeses and Carrs crackers, plus a ripe set of grapes. You get that many cheeses in United Business class! And, this was on a 2.5 hour domestic short-hop from Dallas to Minneapolis!
Minnesota knows how to cut to my heart…
Now, for the main meal, this is where Sun Country did it well: the salad (although I hate croutons) used a dressing other than that nasty Naturally Fresh poison, which might have been calorie laden, but at least complemented the salad it accompanied.
The main course, which was an orange teriyaki chicken, was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. Her companions, however, sucked.
White rice is my kryptonite. I also don’t care for watery steamed veggies unless I am in the mood for self-torture.
This is where the marriage of Alaska’s risotto/asparagus would have been a PERFECT partner for the Sun Country’s chicken. Love’s labor lost.
Love’s labor lost.
Score: 3 out of 5
United: Beating the Competition, At Least In This Instance
Several things to point out here:
First, this was the first year that I was flying United again (after I swore them off until Jeff Smisek had moved onto greener pastures, but no need to bring that up here). So, needless to say, I was expecting a familiar face-off with the Jeff McMuffin to still be lingering in the hallways of United’s Catering dept on this flight from Dallas to San Francisco.
But instead, I was first greeted with a bubbly mimosa, something that United has added in domestic first (sparking vino – heyo!) since I departed in 2013. In addition, the Illy coffee brought me back to my Chicago days #yass.
The fruit bowl actually tasted fresh. There wasn’t some sad heap of soggy canteloupe, honey dew melon (seriously, whoever thought this would be a good contributor to ANY fruit salad must be endorsing some sort of affirmative action for under-represented melons) and a serving of sugar-laden yogurt with the classic, heaping dose of crew side-eye.
No, in fact, it was a robust salad with papaya and pineapple and all of the tropical sh*t that I absolutely adore.
Let’s move onto the main preso: the omelet tasted like airline omelet (its almost like half crepe and half egg? does anyone else agree?) and the pepperjack had almost a milky texture to it. The, “fiesta” combination of black beans, corn and tomatoes added a nice fiber orientation and the potatoes were a rather surprising mix of yams and russet. All with a non-invasive chicken sausage (at least I think it was) to boot.
EGGCELLENT work, United.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
And the WINNER IS!
None of the above, actually.
Because the BEST meal service I received, in fact, was an ECONOMY CLASS meal served on a United flight from London Heathrow to Houston.
Twist of fate, right??
So this meal was a chicken curry dish, of which I ordered approximately two (yes, two!) after devouring the first one (I was hungover and literally the flight was closing when I had barely made it through security, and sprinting through the Queen’s Terminal at Heathrow is an experience I never want to re-live).
The couscous salad tasted like savory mediterranean pearls with just the right amount of oregano and lemon base, accentuated by a spry lettuce leaf. The curry not only had an incredibly tasting co coconut-based sauce, with soften potatoes and succulent chunks of chicken, but it also came on a bed of farro which added the perfect chewy accent to the dish.
Not to mention, this was followed up with…
Rather than a sucky, disappointing packaged cookie.
United wins! In coach!