Recently, I enjoyed a surprisingly good meal.
This meal was on an airplane.
...in Economy class.
...on a trans-Atlantic flight.
...on a U.S.-based carrier.
Yes, you read that correctly. I flew coach class on a red-eye across the Atlantic Ocean. Make that "flew coach class TWICE," in the same month. As the end of 2011 came to a close, I found myself cleaned out of Continental/United's system-wide upgrades with no desire to spend $$$ (and hard-earned miles) on two meals and a three hour pond-hopping nap.
The truth is, I don't mind a short-hop night flight, in this case, from New York to Amsterdam. I gladly snuggle into my bulkhead economy seat beneath the warmth of my quilted winter coat. When beverage service begins, I stock up on mini bottles and Bloody Mary mix like a seasoned pro. I have zero expectations when it comes to the meal service; I already snagged a slice of pizza in the terminal, in case of a tray table fail.
Our meal choices are chicken, beef or vegetarian. The vegetarian is an Indian dish, the chicken comes with pasta and the beef remains a mystery. My entire row went with the veggie option. I went out on a limb and chose chicken.
What touches down on my table is the best-looking economy class meal I've seen all year. Hello gorgeous, do you come here often?
I'm looking at an easy-on-the-eyes golden-brown fried chicken with penne rigate and marinara sauce. Accompaniments are a mixed salad with honey dijon dill dressing, a dinner roll and a delicious "Love and Quiches" brand double chocolate crunch bar for dessert.
The chicken is perfectly heated. It is tender and juicy with a lightly breaded exterior that is crispy without being burnt. Not only is this fried chicken better than any frozen dinner I've tried, it tops the chicken parm from the diner on the corner of my Manhattan street.
This chicken is infinitely better than any poultry dish I've been served up front. In the future, Continental/United should consider adding a fried chicken cutlet to their BusinessFirst meal offerings. As far as the rest of the meal, the salad is in good shape and the dressing is my favorite onboard flavor. I haven't seen one of these chocolate crunch bars on my meal tray in months. It's a welcome dessert bonus (as opposed to the traditional soggy cake brick).
After my three hour nap, lights go up, breakfast is served.
In coach class, trans-Atlantic breakfasts can be questionable. After sleeping off a bucket of onboard Bloody Marys, the last thing any partying pax wants to lay eyes on is some sort of moist salami plate or moldy cheese with bread. The worst is the little foil-covered tub of bitter, processed orange drink. The thought makes me shudder.
I was surprised once again when I was handed the most non-offensive breakfast I've seen on an airplane. On my tray: a warm croissant served with butter and jam and mixed melon. It's perfect. There's no need for anything more; we're one hour away from an airport flush with cafes, restaurants and multiple Starbucks'.
This may not be the healthiest example of inflight dining, but it's among the tastiest. The fact that the meal was served in economy class gives me hope that U.S.-based carriers can step up on the quality of trans-Atlantic dining. When compared to economy offerings in European carriers like Air France, the United States still has a way to go. I do want to give kudos to Continental (United) for their recent on-board efforts.
Thanks for a lovely dinner, Continental. If you always wined and dined me like this, we'd be going steady by now.