Recently I found myself kicking it pre-platinum old school in coach class, in that sweet spot by the bulkhead of a 767-400. I was heading to New York from Houston, where I'd spent several days binging on Tex-Mex and tequilla. When they say, "everything's bigger in Texas," they mean everything: I nearly had to gate-check my Lonestar State-sized hangover.
It's common knowledge that best cure for a hangover is a Bloody Mary. It also happens to be my favorite part of every flight. Truth. The second best cure is "brunch" so I decided to throw myself an inflight brunch fiesta for one and fork over the big bucks. I finally found an opportunity to sample the new pay-for-purchase menu at Continenal Airlines.
After perusing the menu (found in the back of the Hemispheres inflight magazine) I stumbled upon the PERFECT hangover-friendly, brunchy, munchy nosh. They call it the "tapas snack box," I simply call it "salty and delicious." The meal comes in a long, sleek, shrink-wrapped container decorated with wood-paneling print and a photo of three black olives.
What you will find inside the $8.49 Tapas Snack Box (from Continental's website):
"Oloves Marinated Olives, Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta Spread, Wild Garden™ Hummus, Rondelé® Peppercorn Parmesan Cheese Spread, Fratelli Laurieri Scrocchi Al Rosmarino Crackers, Jacobs® Cream Crackers, Partners® Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crackers, Emerald® Natural Almonds, Fantis® Ouzo Candy Mint"
That's crackers, hummus, cheese spread, tomato and garlic spread, olives, nuts and a mint (for the inevitable garlic breath). Not a bad mix, and not unlike what I'd actually be snacking on if I were hungover at home, kicking back on my own sofa.
I was visibly having so much fun at my tray table tapas party, the flight attendant comped me a second Bloody Mary. "Here's to your hangover brunch," he exclaimed with a smile as he fake-swiped my credit card and handed it back to me. Rock on, my friend.
As I dipped and spread, sipped vodka and popped salty green olives into my mouth, another airline tapas experience came flooding back to me. Earlier this year I took a short-haul Iberia flight from the Canary Islands to Madrid. It's the only other flight in 2011 where I indulged myself in a pay-for-purchase culinary experience.
Iberia's colorful seatback menu is enticing, complete with Spanish sandwiches, kid's meals and combo deals. I grabbed a beer & olives combo and supplemented it with an order of "Fuet tradicional" which I guessed was the Spanish version of a Slim Jim.
Both the olives and the dried sausages came with packets of crispy breadsticks. The beer went down easily, the sausages were sufficiently spicy and the olives were real Spanish olives, marinated in garlic and thyme. A great, all-around inflight snack experience, and well worth the money spent.
So which was better: Tapas tapas, or Snack Box tapas?
Iberia's domestic offerings come straight from Spain, resulting in better overall food quality and flavor, but I'm not going to knock Continental for being "American." For the price point, I think the US-based airline is really onto something with their "snack box" concept. The fact that they've tackled tapas with a variety of savory spreads gives me some hope for the culinary future of the United merger.
Of course, United could use a professional foodie like myself on the payroll to tweek the potential of their snack box empire. Instead of pay-for-purchase dining being just an edible option, it could become a selling point in itself. Until there's a fabulous inflight meal selection to match every passenger personality, you'll find me happily kicking it in the back with my tapas box and bucket o'Bloody Marys.
(Psst, United...call me.)