I didn’t take my first airplane trip until I was 20 years old, when I flew from New York to Miami. I was fascinated with every aspect of the experienceticketing, boarding, emergency-exit instructions, airsickness bags, even the itty-bitty restrooms. Most of all, I loved the in-flight dining experiencethe stewardesses (as we called them then) gliding down the aisles with the food carts, sweetly inquiring, “Baked chicken or beef stew?” before whisking the top off a little meal tray and setting it down before me. I was enchanted by the compartmentalized plastic plates, the downsized flatwear wrapped in plastic, the roll, and the butter pats. The food was not memorable, but it was edible and it provided adequate sustenance for my journey.
As I became a more seasoned traveler, I learned to ask for special meals when I made my reservations. I always felt a little smug as my seatmates ate their lasagna with meat sauce and lusted for my seafood platter. I heard all the jokes and complaints about airline food, but, quite frankly, I never thought it was all that bad. Of course, I was used to eating Lean Cuisines several nights a week.
Well, I hope all you people who whined and moaned about airline food are happy now. Who can blame American and Delta and United and all the others for finally saying, “You don’t like our food? Fine, we just won’t feed you anymore. See how you like making a meal out of a bag of peanuts!”
The last time I took a plane, it departed Nashville at about 8:35 a.m., set to arrive in Dallas around half past 10. Apparently, American assumed we had all eaten breakfast, so all they offered was juice and coffee. We arrived in Dallas on time but sat in the runway for nearly half an hour. Our connecting flight to Gunnison, Colo., was about 35 gates away from the spot where we arrived. By the time we schlepped over to the departure gate, checked in, and made a bathroom stop, it was nearly time to board our 11:45 a.m. flight. There were eight of us traveling together, so, knowing we would not be fed on the next flight, we scattered down the concourse, looking for food to take aboard the plane.
I ran from a hot dog stand (ugh) to a pizza stand to a frozen yogurt store to a soft-pretzel kiosk. I ended up with nothing at all and was famished by the time we landed in Coloradothanks to weather delaysnearly three hours later.
Recently, I got a press release from a company called CA One, announcing what I consider to be The Idea of the Decade. The release described Airmeals, a new store at the Nashville International Airport. There, according to Roger Schwandtner, director of operations services for CA One, Airmeals will “provide travelers with a quick, one-stop shopping location where they can find brands they recognize.”
The Nashville Airmeals store is the company’s first. It’s located, curiously enough, in the sleepier B Concourse, rather than A, which is home to American and Southwest. I called Schwandtner’s office, hoping to ask how such decisions are made, but he was traveling, no doubt enjoying Airmeals along the way.
At the Airmeals store, the procedure is simple: You grab a little shopping basket and make your way past coffees and pastries, moving along to chips, bottled beverages, packaged sandwiches, and salads. If you want a hot dog, a sausage sandwich, or Whitt’s barbecue, you order it from the grill guy. Then you grab a piece of fresh fruit or an Edy’s frozen fruit bar and pick up the necessary utensils and condiments. The cashier places your food in a convenient shopping bag with handles, ready to carry onto the airplane. How easy is that?
And it’s edible too. The four sandwichesham and turkey with smoked provolone on focaccia, honey ham and Swiss on rye kaiser roll, smoked turkey and cheddar on sesame kaiser roll, and peppered turkey and Swiss on multi-grain hoagiecome from Sara Lee, and they’re larger than the sandwiches you receive, albeit on rare occasions, on airplane flights. And they certainly offer more meat and cheese. Each costs $4.95. Add a bag of chips and a drink, and you’ve got a meal on wheelsor on the wing, as the case may be.
Like most airplane food, however, these sandwiches don’t have much flavor, and it’s hard to distinguish the turkey from the ham, except by color. Of the four, our testing group was most fond of the turkey and Swiss, followed by the ham, and the turkey and provolone.
Early-morning flyers might choose the breakfast croissant. Consisting of egg, meat, and cheese product, it wasn’t too bad, once it had been warmed up in the microwave. If you don’t have time for that, steer toward the bagels instead.
The prepackaged salada $4.25 mix of greens, cucumbers, tomato wedges, a few olives, half a hard-boiled egg, carrots, and onionwas decent, certainly better than the ones available at fast-food franchises. Airmeals could use a better selection of salad dressings. Only one is offered now, and it’s not low-fat.
The Whitt’s barbecue sandwich was exactly what any Nashvillian would expect it to beaverage pulled pork on a bun, a smoky sauce to squirt on, and no surprises. The hot dogs and sausages were better than most standard airport fare, a little plumper and a little juicier. You can throw on some mustard and take them on a plane, but I’d skip the chili, out of consideration for your traveling companions.
Likewise, you’d be wise not to take the Southern-style bean soup airborne. It’s hot and messy and not worth the trouble. However, it does allow me to mention the sign that urges, “Try our Southern-style bean soup or homestyle chiliA Nashville airport tradition.” Say what?
I hope Airmeals will eventually offer more optionsa wrap sandwich, for instance, and a couple more salad selections. The prepackaged desserts we sampled were stale and dry. Skip them and look for a frozen yogurt store at your next airport.
Vacation season is already upon us. You can pack your own snacks or wait until you get to the terminal. Airmeals is the right idea at the right time, and it offers a decent product at a fair price. So quit your whinin’ and buckle your seatbelts. Bon voyage.
Airmeals is located near Gate B5 at the Nashville International Airport.
Two more wrap restaurants have opened since Market Wraps debuted the concept in the Nashville area. Market Wraps is in Brentwood, but the newcomers are downtown.
City Wraps, located in the Arcade, is open Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2:15 p.m. Prices range from $2.75 for rice bowls to $4.95 for a wrap that includes meats, vegetables, and homemade spreads. Box lunches come with a wrap, a side item, and dessert for $4.75-$6.75. City Wraps will deliver orders over $50. You can check them out at Dancin’ in the District. Call ahead at 777-9727.
Roly-Poly has set up shop over on Second Avenue in Butler’s Run. Thirty-five varieties of wrap sandwiches are offered, not including anything you make up for yourself. Prices range from $4.25 to $6.95. (The priciest offering is the salmon club.) Delivery is free in the downtown area with a $15 minimum order. Call ahead at 255-4600.