Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bringing Your Own Food On An Airplane

Since airlines have begun charging for food on their flights over the last couple of years, there seems to be a lot less eating on airplanes by passengers. As someone who was never a big eater on planes, I am pretty happy about that in general. But in my experience this has also resulted in another, less pleasant, consequence: many passengers who do want to eat seem to bring their own food. While I still think that people should be able to go without eating for 3 or 4 hours, I guess I can see bringing on a bag of McDonalds purchased in the terminal just before boarding, or a Subway sandwich or whatever. But I start to have a problem with some of the "home made" food that I've seen some fellow passengers bring onboard.

A case in point was a flight I took on Monday from Dallas to California. The flight was totally full, and since I went standby I ended up in the very last row, but at least I got the window. The guy in the middle seat next to me was way too big to be comfortable there. He was a tall and stocky (but not obese) man, about the size of disgraced financier Alan Stanford. About an hour into the flight, a stewardess comes by and asks if we'd like a complimentary beverage. I passed and turned to look out the window. But this big guy next to me hems and haws and then says finally, "I wonder what goes best with Texas barbeque?"

That got my attention again. What did he just say? I had heard him right, it turns out. (His answer: Diet Coke.) As the stewardess poured him his drink, he reached down into the computer bag at his feet and began awkwardly pulling out this big tupperware platter full of BBQ. And sure enough, after he pulled down his tray table, he dove right in with both hands, literally. Who in the world thinks that BBQ ribs for lunch is a good idea when you're 6' 3" and flying in coach. And since we were seated in the last row, he was eating all this BBQ just a few feet from the lavatory. He would have been further from a toilet if instead he'd taken his plastic tub of ribs into the public mens' restroom at DFW airport before departure and eaten those ribs while leaning against the paper towel dispenser near the sinks.

When he was more or less finished, he suddenly leaned his elbows on his tray table, hands upright like a surgeon scrubbing before surgery. BBQ sauce coated his hands and was dripping down his forearms. And then it hits me, he'd just realized that he had failed to bring any napkins. Then he glanced over at me with a confused any maybe desperate look. Were his eyes saying, "would you mind terribly if I just used your t-shirt as a napkin?" Or maybe, "I'm sorry to bother you, but do you happen to have a spare 20 napkins on you?" Or even, "Oh no, I'm bleeding! Can you tie a tourniquet?"

That whole scene seems to me, on reflection, to be a metaphor for the war in Afghanistan. It seemed like a great idea initially. ("These ribs are great. I think that I'll take some on the plane tomorrow. They'll keep until then and it'll help pass the time.") But the whole situation soon proved to be larger and more complicated than expected. ("Huh, I can't seem to get this tupperware container out of my bag. There we go. Finally. Uh oh, it seems to be too big for the tray table. Where will I put my Diet Coke? If I hold the glass of Coke in one hand, I won't be able to eat these ribs with both hands...") And then it soon proved that we were woefully under-resourced as well. ("Oh sh*t, I forgot the napkins....")

In the end, he was, after some effort and delay, able to beg a few more cocktail napkins from the stewardess. But they were not nearly sufficient. So he spent the rest of the flight with, quite literally, a mess on his hands. When we exited the plane a couple of hours later, he still had some BBQ sauce on his hands. And he left those used cocktail napkins, now discolored brown, wadded up in the seat back pouch in front of him. There's a lesson in there somewhere.....

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