Look, I’m going to come clean about this; I dislike travelling on planes.
Actually, I also dislike the whole airport procedure thingy.
While we are at it, let’s throw in packing bags, schlepping to the airport, lugging luggage, queuing, delays, the roar of the engines, turbulence, surly staff, missing bags and let’s not forget the dreaded jet lag.
There’s more, lots more, but I think you get the picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting other places; the sorry shame of the whole thing is that an aluminium flying tube is part of the experience.
Yep, I don’t like flying.
So what happens when I get an invite to go behind the scenes at Food Directions, BA’s in-flight caterers, not only to see how the food is prepared but also to be involved in cooking a dish suitable for on board consumption?
Do I do the sensible thing and say no? Of course not. I embrace my fear and charge out of my comfort zone.
This is how I found myself driving to Cape Town airport one morning at 7am for a red-eye special to O.R. Tambo International Airport.
I should mention that I also detest early morning flights.
Four hours later, bleary-eyed and frazzled, I’ve been joined by seven other media at the Food Directions facility which lies on the outskirts of the airport in Johannesburg.
First up on the menu; a tour of the food area.
We had to wear white space suits, and fill in a form to confirm that we are not suffering from unmentionable bowel disorders on the day.
The food area is huge, and the most important aspect is hygiene, and more hygiene. Washing hands every hour is top of the list for all staff.
Their systems are impressive and yes, it all seems to run like clockwork.
There were things I never knew; meals can’t be over a certain height on the tray; travellers love pasta in the air; our taste become less sensitive in the air so extra seasoning has to be put into dishes and the wines have to be a little more robust to perform at 35,000 feet.
Sorry, that is not true for me; my taste buds become more sensitive in the air. But I am in a minority and this in-flight food business is all about catering for the majority.
On and on, went the specifications. It would make you dizzy.
And then we had to face the challenge of creating our own vision for a meal in the air.
Our team choose to do a fish curry. It’s sounds easy but, between the jigs and the reels, it was nervous breakdown territory.
The winning dish in the end was steak, vegetables and pasta. They really deserved to win.
The prize for the team? – Business Class tickets to any destination in Southern Africa. Yes, I know, a great prize and yes, there was gnashing of teeth from the losers.
The Food Directions people are very serious about what they do and are committed to being innovative, while still adhering to the hyper rules and regulations.
I would love to see the team being a bit cheeky, yes cheeky, and take a few more risks.
For me food in the air should surprise and delight. I would love to see more snacky food in the air. Dips, fruit, raw veg, soup, cheese and what about some chocolate? But what do I know? It would appear most travellers love eating, (mainly hot food) in the air.
Last year I found out something which has changed my food selection when flying.
Food is of such importance to the airlines that it dictates where and how passengers can be seated. It is not possible to get an upgrade if you have ordered a special meal. Imagine finding that out? What a shocker?
By ordering a special meal you automatically exclude yourself from getting an accidental upgrade.
For someone like me who used to order vegetarian meals when flying, to avoid what I perceived as culinary crimes, this made me change my tune rapidly.
My days of ordering a vegetarian meal are over because although I might not share food likes with most air travellers I certainly share the dream with every single traveller out there of getting an upgrade to Business, or even First Class.
We can all dream.