The golden age of inflight meals: Cognac and cigars

(CNN) — Inflight eating was much from its glory days even prior to Covid ensured anything was plastic-wrapped and pre-requested.

On very long-haul intercontinental flights, the concern “rooster or fish” is generally satisfied with resigned acceptance of a nuked, small food in an aluminum foil tray. A limp salad — with 50 percent a cherry tomato. A roll so really hard it could be confiscated by the TSA as a weapon. An underwhelming main that could be equally hen and fish. And who even eats yogurt for dessert at meal?

Domestic flights? Let us not even go there.

But consider being questioned if you’d rather have the chilled Beluga caviar or smoked Nova Scotia salmon to commence? Possibly the Tournedos Rossini (a famous mix of filet mignon, foie gras and black truffle) for your entree?

And would Madame like to select American or European cigarettes to end her food?

Back again in the golden era of air travel, inflight eating menus were being a total distinct ball activity. Even in Mentor.

A single lady who is aware this additional than most is Anne Sweeney. She flew as a flight attendant with Pan Am from 1964-1975, criss-crossing the world:

“All of Pan Am’s flights were worldwide and we went to each individual continent except Antarctica. I loved Morocco other favorites had been London — wherever I was based mostly for 6 a long time — Paris, Beirut, Bangkok, Tahiti and Hong Kong, in which I was dependent from 1967-68.”

Scrambling eggs — in coach

It is really distinct that foods provider was the crucial aspect of the inflight knowledge — just one that demanded true cooking competencies — even at the again of the “bus:”

“Our 5-7 days schooling plan invested about 70% of the time on food and services instruction since we didn’t just pull one thing pre-cooked out of a drawer,” suggests Sweeney. “The ‘galley girl’ in initial course had to set up carts and prepare dinner individual entrees as properly as a roast beef. We also cooked eggs to get for breakfast. And one particular of the worst galley tasks was basically scrambling eggs in coach!”

Pan Am flight attendant Anne Sweeney prepares scrambled eggs in the galley in-flight.

Courtesy Anne Sweeney/Pan Am Museum Basis

Understandably, these in business enterprise and initial course — the pointy finish — would get even much better culinary creations, in some situations catered by famous eating places. But even the dishes served in mentor would make present-day fliers green with envy.

“Although Pan Am’s initially class provider was excellent and established by Maxim’s of Paris, it ought to be mentioned that the economy foods ended up wonderful too,” remembers Sweeney.

“We heated veggies and a meat entrée in the galleys — they arrived on frozen and often experienced a sauce. Entrées that I bear in mind dishing out 120 occasions on a complete 707 (veggies were one more 120 turns of the wrist) integrated chicken vol-au-vent, beef bourguignon, Cornish hen, beef stroganoff and much more.”

Whilst based mostly in Hong Kong, Sweeney also flew solely on R&R functions that Pan Am established up for the US governing administration, taking troops from Saigon, Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. A diverse kind of inflight food all over again — but 1 that was often welcomed:

“The menu was normally steak, potatoes, greens, ice cream and milk. Bottles of ketchup ended up passed by means of the cabin. Not extremely stylish — but absolutely appreciated.”

Inflight dining down beneath — considering that the 1930s

Other dishes on worldwide airways from the golden age of flying wouldn’t look out of area in Michelin-starred places to eat currently. Australian national provider Qantas celebrated its centenary past year and has chronicled inflight foods given that the 1930s, as David Crotty, curator at Qantas Heritage Selection, explains:

“Qantas began inflight food assistance with the Empire flying boats in 1938, amongst Sydney and Singapore. The Rose Bay hotel was our very first inflight meals kitchen area, despite the fact that incredibly hot food stuff was packed in large flasks and not heated on board. Stewards ended up employed as cabin crew.”

Among a quantity of firsts, Qantas launched frozen food items to Australia and in 1948 their to start with female cabin crew commenced flying. They also produced special menus for Christmas and for occasions such as the 1954 tour by the British royal spouse and children, where fliers tucked into dishes including “poached snapper with hollandaise sauce” ahead of “grilled French lamb cutlets with Saratoga potatoes.”

Australian airline Qantas began its inflight meal service back in the 1930s.

Australian airline Qantas commenced its inflight food assistance again in the 1930s.


Suggests Crotty, “In the 1950s and ’60s global flying was highly-priced and the menus reflected this with quite a few elaborate meals explained in French, but by the 1970s, points have been much more calm as traveling turned increasingly democratic with the Boeing 747.”

Flying from London to Auckland on Qantas meant stops in Rome, Bombay, Hong Kong and Melbourne — with an astonishing diversity of meals and drinks served alongside the way. “Strasbourg foie gras in pastry crust with duck galantine” sounds tempting — and decadent enough — but it was just a single of four appetizers on just just one leg of the flight. Your entree could have been “breast of pheasant in sour cream” or probably “cutlet of veal with ox tongue and almonds.”

It was not just down below nonetheless, exactly where the skies were being decidedly gourmet.

The Golden Samovar

Back again in the late 1960s, Alaska Airways introduced its Golden Samovar assistance to celebrate “Alaska’s colourful Russian heritage.” As their publicity at the time spelled out:

“Pretty stewardesses in their tasteful, extended black maxicoats welcome you aboard. Genuine Russian balalaika melodies set the mood as hostesses serve a beverage from the samovar — the Bolshoi Golden Troika, (a combine of espresso, vodka and liqueurs) produced by the house of Seagram. Russian menus element caviar, veal Orloff, tartlet Odessa and a lot more.”

The provider complimented Alaska Airlines’ quick procedure of charter providers to the previous USSR and ongoing in subsequent several years “thanks to reputation with travellers.”

With that Golden Troika concoction, we can see why.

On American Airways, classic pics exhibit roast beef getting sliced and served to purchase from a trolley, although even youngsters kicked back again with burgers as element of a complete food services.

Children enjoying the service on American Airlines.

Kids enjoying the services on American Airlines.

American Airways

Again in the early 1960s, its Royal Coachman menu — what is it with British royals and inflight dining? — showcased a bugler heralding the arrival of beef consommé, sauteed breast of hen in wine and a fruit tartlet.

Aboard Singapore Airways at 35,000 feet, the trolleys would arrived laden with platters of salads and hors d’oeuvres, cheese plates, decadent-searching desserts — and nevertheless more roast beef.

It even released a “banquet in the sky,” where to start with class passengers have been dealt with to a meal assistance “with a selection in the main course (entrée) of quail Angostura bitters, crayfish etouffée or beef wellington with Périgueux sauce — in other text with Madeira and black truffle. Those people traveling from LA to Tokyo — and then on to Singapore — could get pleasure from broiled lobster tail, veal loin apricot or marinated tenderloin.

It sure beats a bag of pretzels.

And if you would consider that particular meals and dietary necessities have been a really current addition inflight — then think once again.

Previous Pan Am flight attendant Anne Sweeney — nevertheless operating these days, at her have general public relations agency in New Jersey — recalls the wide variety of meals on offer:

“There had been vegetarian foods for Indian travellers, salt-free, diabetic, kosher. The Mormon Church was a large client of Pan Am and they sent their missionaries on our flights — occasionally up to 50 young adult males in white shirts and black ties with small hair. They seriously stood out in the ’60s and ’70s! They experienced to have juice and h2o — no booze, espresso or tea.”

Just one component that Sweeney evidently didn’t overlook, however, was in-flight using tobacco:

“Smoking cigarettes is not my favourite issue considering that I in no way smoked, but like numerous females who participated in a research from Dartmouth Healthcare University, I experienced from the effects of 2nd-hand smoke. In To start with Class, we offered complimentary mini-packs of Marlboro, four to a pack. Crew users would get the leftovers off the plane and both smoke them or use them as recommendations in the resorts the place we stayed.”

As other vintage menus exhibit, these types of as from BOAC — the forerunner to British Airways — menus would usually conclude with the line “Packets of 20, English and American, simple or filter idea.”

Think about that, up coming time you pay out $12 for a blanket.

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