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When Airline Food Started...

Sat Nov 29, 2003 7:22 pm

With all of the talk of airlines cutting food out of the price of the ticket, it got me to thinking.........why put food on airplanes in the first place. When air travel first started, I gather it was very adventurous...uncommon and for the very wealthy. I was just thinking about it because, well there was never food on busses and I know some of those trips must have taken a lot longer then airplane trips, who started it...and why?
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sat Nov 29, 2003 8:00 pm

Drive America's back roads...get away from the will see the ruins of a time-gone-by. Remenants of old cafes and coffee shops every so often, especially in the more populated regions. A bus wouldn't have to go far before for a flag stop with a cafe.

The first "airline" flights were lengthy in terms of time spent flying while the actual ground covered was minimal when compared to today's standards.

That's my impression, at least.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sat Nov 29, 2003 8:03 pm

Well, in my humble opinion the question as to the "why" can be answered quite easily. Why do you give a feeding bottle to an infant? Simply to mollify him. And that's exactly what airlines then had in mind. To mollifiy their passengers, to distract them.

Eating and drinking are one of the few essentials in life, doing it on board gave an "air of normality" to something that wasn't regarded as "normal" some 80 years ago. Feeding the passengers gave them something to do, kept them busy ...

German by nationality, European by heart!
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sat Nov 29, 2003 8:08 pm

On long haul flights, food has to be an essential part of the inflight experience. Whenever you pick people up from the airport and ask them 'how was your flight?' they will usually volunteer an opinion about the food, whether it was horrible or good, etc.
Has anyone ever checked out the website : it's a fascinating site. Can usually get pretty raw, what-you-see-is-what-you-get pics on what carriers are serving these days. The first class meal pics are pretty amazing.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sat Nov 29, 2003 8:43 pm


I'd imagine a major reason food was offered on flights was because flying was such a special experience compared to going by bus.
Did the chicken or the egg get laid first?
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sat Nov 29, 2003 9:02 pm

I agree. Air travel was very long-haul back in the 40s and 50s. It took much, much longer to travel by air than it does now. Therefore, people had to have some sustanance.

However, due to the "romance" of flying, meals were more or less complimentary, or at least part of the whole package. You didn't really have an option of paying a reduced fare to fly without a meal (for example, if you wanted to bring your own food). Therefore, people came to expect meal service when flying. Buses would stop at cafes, and trains had dining cars, but you still had to pay for your meals at these places. You didn't on an airline. That's why the flying public is up in arms about lack of meal service, or paying for food on planes.
"Lose" is not spelled with two o's!!!!
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 12:00 am

My initial logical response was very similar to Ssides'. What were they going to do with passengers of Martin 130s and other China Clippers, let them pass out? However, in reading the responses, my favorite - the one which hit my gut rather than my head was Aviaction's. Right on. Didn't Harlan Ellison call TV the glass t**t?

Actually, when I first saw just the header of the first post: "When Airline Food Started..." I thought the topic was "When Airline Food Started to go down the tubes" but this has probably been beaten to death.
You Can't Take the Sky from Me
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 12:03 am

In the early days, the inflight service was done by the co-pilot (the concept of the steward/stewardess had yet to be created), and was usually some sort of box lunch, coffee, and tomato soup. In many cases in the early days, the pax picked up something to eat at the airport (similar to what many of us do today on flights) and carried it onboard. Now of the early days of airline food service, perhaps the best was on the Hindenburg and her sister airships. The meals there rivaled that of what was being offered on any cruise ship of the era.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 1:07 am

In the very early days of flying, the main competition to airlines was not buses, it was trains. Trains had lavish dining cars and First Class passengers could and did order "room service." Also, the railroads often built hotels for their passengers to spend the night in when the trips had an overnight layover. The old Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, Virginia, is one of those hotels.

The idea of expecting people to travel on something that was not only expensive but dangerous without providing creature comforts of some sort just didn't seem like the best idea. So........the airline meal was born and as time went on became more and more elaborate.

I recently retired after more than 35 years of flying. The service, such that airlines now do, is embarrassing for most very senior flight attendants. It's just not good at all.
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Sun Nov 30, 2003 2:21 am

Do you remember eggs cooked to order on breakfast flights? Now, it's a bagel or a bowl of corn flakes.

How about the roast beef carved at the passengers side? Now, it's what...cold chicken wedges, if that.

Do you remember when the First Class cabin was something to experience? Now, the dividing curtains have been removed so that the air marshals can have an unobstructed view of the aisle.

For those people who know what I'm talking about, as Piedmont Girl said, it's a real embarassment today.

Aviation is proof that, given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 2:54 am

Oh, yes, I remember eggs cooked to order on breakfast flights, and I remember roast beef carved at your seat. I can remember champagne bottles opened seat side (there was never a passenger alive who didn't love watching that), and opening wine bottles at the passenger seat.

A flight attendant who really enjoyed working First Class, and I was one of them, could make you think you'd died and gone to heaven. It was really something to experience.

Now it's cold chicken fingers -- if it's even that much. It's just embarrassing.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 3:29 am

The answer to your question is Marriott. The first property was located near Washington DC airport and the owner found many airline pax were stopping at his property to buy food for the flight... so he came up with the idea of an airline catering operation.

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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 3:39 am

Well, now that all of us are reminiscing (oh yes, I do remember those golden days when our flag carrier, you know the one with the Crane, still had first class on all services, even the shortest internal German ones ... sorry, that's off the subject):

Isn't it a pity to see that one of the true pioneers of in-flight catering, SWISS (or rather, technically speaking, one of their predecessors) has eliminated food service on most European flights in Y class. So much for history and tradition.

However, I keep claiming that the basic idea behind serving food on board had virtually nothing to do with service, but with psychology. It still has, some airlines remember, some don't. As long as the passengers are kept busy, they are kept from developing fears. And the subject "fear" is still the most important reason for not flying, or for not flying as often as desired.

Happy flying, happy dining!

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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 3:39 am

I think that before deregulations, when airlines were heavily subsidized and when governments set fares, the only way to attract passengers was for airlines to offer great service, including gourmet meals.
Now airlines are mainly using yield management and pricing to attract customers.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 4:13 am

I know people talk a lot today about how airlines have cut back on food. When I was a kid back in the 70's we used to fly from Washington D.C. to Phoenix on AA's 707's. I remember we did get feed, but only depending on what times of the day you flew, and that was a 4 hour flight. Plus, I also remember that there we no IFE on those flights.

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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 4:38 am

Flying SAS and Braathens within Scandinavia in the 80's-90's, I remember that the food that was served was actually really good. Sandwiches, cold cuts, etc. Same things with other European carriers. Don't know why most US airlines failed in coach food service. And today's Bistro Bag from AA....? puhh-leeze.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 4:58 am

As I've said many times, at least in Asia, air travel is still a nice experience! Hot meals on 53 minute flights from Singapore to Penang..... Full meals with a choice in economy class on Singapore to Jakarta, at 1h 15mins.

But then again you could argue that the skies in Asia are still very regulated.... (But then again I can get a flight SIN-HKG on SQ, a 3h 30min flight, for about USD250-300. Or with CX too at around the same price)

Not too expensive is it? On such flights I get PTVs and full meals. Sometimes, even Video on demand in economy.

I hope air travel in Asia doesn't go the way of the US and to a lesser extent, Europe.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 6:00 am

Forgive my ranting, but this is all about costs, costs, costs and profits, profits, profits. What would you rather have: Heavily regulated, high-priced flights that only the upper-middle-class can afford, with gourmet meals ... OR ... little-regulated, low-fare flights that almost every citizen can afford? While I love great service as much as the next person, I realize that you pay a price for it. In those days, we had a very insulated, protected market that didn't have to worry much about profitability or efficiency. Today, we have a near-free market in air travel, where you can travel coast to coast round-trip for $300 in some cases. To your average citizen, that's worth the tradeoff. And that's why it's the way it is today.
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 6:35 am

Actually, the idea of food on planes goes back to the very first days of airline service.

This was particularly true in Europe. For those outside the U.S. who might want to pat themselves on the back and think of themselves as incredibly more civilized and cultured than their neighbors on the frontier 3000 mi west of "the continent"...the reason food service began was not strictly to feed the passenger.

The wooden aircraft of those days (the 1920s) featured drawing rooms and posh accomodations. The hope was that fledgling airlines could trade a little bit of swank to take passenger's minds off the abysmal safety record. Imperial Airways, Air France, and Lufthansa all boasted extravagant inflight amenities on board their wooden airplanes which, on occasion, actually made it to the destination.

In the United States, the infancy of the airliner area was the loud, rugged, but all metal Ford TriMotor. Thanks to the "Tin Goose" insurance policies were not automatically cancelled the moment the insured set foot on an airplane, and before long "flight insurance"policies were a profit making venture at airports.

The Fort TriMotor was many things but extravagantly well appointed was not one of them. Due to the length of the flight, yes, the copilot or hostess handed out boxed lunches or dinners.

American became famous, to a certain extent, for the pretty decent chow available on their DC-3 "Flagships." Due to C.R. Smith's (then president of AA) fondness for fried chicken it was a featured menu item on many trips.

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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Sun Nov 30, 2003 7:01 am

Wow - so much in this thread!

First off, I agree with Ssides, but also feel that the future "dividing line" between LCCs and majors, the way they will be able to manage to stay majors and pull themselves out of the rut they are currently in, will be service. Just like classes still exist on cruise ships, railroads, and indeed in airline cabins, service is the ticket to reemphasize why an airline is an LCC or a major. The majors will, I hope and believe, begin rediscovering that many people are willing to pay a little extra (without going totally overboard and abolishing any kind of reasonable fare structure; those "all first" and "all biz" carriers such as MGM Grand and Air One, etc., never worked and none has lasted to date and the newest proposal, CrystalAir, cannot even secure first round funding!) for extra legroom, more comfortable seats, personal viewscreens, in-flight internet, video games, and, yes, free and decent food (which, of course, would not really be free, as you would be paying a higher ticket price for it!). Not everyone can, as Ssides has pointed out, afford biz or First, and not everyone in Y wants to be treated like cattle. The logical solution - let the low-fares and minors carry those whose only qualification for airline choice is cost/price choose them.

The majors, if they are smart, will realize this and begin to differentiate their products in this manner, and abandon the silly notion of setting up these doomed "airlines within airlines" such as SONG, TED, and the grand-pappy of the group, the long-gone MetroJet.

Airline food history - early U.S. airlines were almost all organized and, indeed, at one point, controlled or owned by the railroad companies. Getting cross-country by "air" in the early days meant you flew during daylight hours, landed close to dusk, reboarded a comfy sleeper car and zipped through the night to the next daylight aerodrome. Cross-country travel in this way was luxurious and novel and for the very privileged. This also gave rise to the need for "box lunches" on early flights and "stewardesses." Early stewardesses were registered nurses, as well, so obviously they had several roles to play, not just meeting, greeting, seating and feeding, the way some would have you believe.

According to several sources, the first commercial flight attendant (or "stewardess") was Ellen Church, a young woman from Cresco, Iowa, who approached the Boeing Co. in 1929 with the idea and organized the first hiring/training/etc. of flight attendants for them:

"Ellen Church, was instrumental in organizing a Stewardess Service with the Boeing Company. Miss Church felt that institutional training should be combined with aviation. The Boeing Company was the first in the history of aviation to employ women as members of their flying force, and it was also the first to engage institutionally trained women as a third member of their crew.

"According to Miss Church, the duties of the stewardesses were to look after the interests and comforts of air passengers and to take complete charge of such to the passengers' destinations. While enroute, the stewardesses pointed out places of interest in cities, towns, rivers, mountains, passes, altitudes, etc. She was a licensed pilot and approached the Boeing Company with the idea that she could serve as a nurse and substitute pilot on their planes. Early specifications for flight attendants were that they be no taller than 5 foot 4 inches and must weigh less than 115 pounds. With these specifications they would be able to manuever around the plane with the low celings and narrow aisles. Attendants' other duties were to take tickets, load luggage, gas the plane and help push the machine into the hangar. Ellen Church was instrumental in hiring the first team of attendants. Through her work and calming presence, she helped convince the public of the safety in flying."


I miss good food on national flights here in the U.S. and would gladly switch from my preferred LCCs to "the majors" if they were to bring back meals and not go the DL route by overcharging for bad sandwiches, something that PeoplExpress did back in the 1980s for ghastly sandwiches on its international flights from BRU to EWR... (I haven't had such bad indigestion ever since!)  Wink/being sarcastic

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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Mon Dec 01, 2003 4:36 am

I remember getting peanuts on it's just pretzels  Laugh out loud
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RE: When Airline Food Started...

Mon Dec 01, 2003 5:10 am

Wow, thank you for all of the great responses. Unfortunately I am too young to remember any of the "Golden" days of travel, far gone I would guess. It is very interesting to see all of the different experiences people have had over the years... THANKS FOR SHARING!

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