First published 9 November 2016
I’ve piloted a micro-light in a sleet and snow storm, so slush at altitude is an old friend of mine. Having it whip into your eyes as you deliberately stall the airframe to experience a bigger adrenaline rush is one thing; having it served up to you as fine-dining fare is a whole other ball-game.
‘Airline food’ has long been an oxymoron but some carriers have made a major effort to reverse the perception and, if not attack, at least nuzzle the passengers’ taste buds.
My favorite frequent flyer affiliates are the Star Alliance group. Many quality airlines such as Thai, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and United combine along with my all-time favorite Air New Zealand (“Good afternoon Mister Rushton, welcome back.”).
Conversely the One World Group has some members who have never impressed me: KLM (rude, brusque staff and cripplingly uncomfortable seats), Cathay Pacific (never been a fan), Malaysia (need I say more?); as well as some which I can endure if I have to: Qantas, BA, and Qatar.
One which has totally impressed me in the past has been Singapore Airlines, a Star Alliance member. ‘In the past’ is now the operative phrase. Usually, their total experience is exemplary: check-in; security; boarding; polite and helpful cabin staff; not overly intrusive cabin announcements; and good-to-great in-cabin entertainment (ICE) available right through to docking – no cutting off the video feed when you’re 30 minutes away from the final approach.
Last week I flew Mumbai cheap jerseys to Singapore and then Singapore to Bali. The ‘Singapore Girl’ was true to the company’s word and everything progressed smoothly. Check-in offered me a very reasonable upgrade to Premium Economy. I was traveling overnight and I tend not to sleep so I readily accepted.
Mumbai airport has the slowest immigration and security checks in the world. The security staff is always miserable, abrupt, offhand with you and rough with your x-rayed hand luggage. Bad management. Sad.
Then we were delayed, so my connection in Singapore was in danger. No problem; well, a problem but not a problem that I could do anything about.
The seat on the first leg was terrific, well worthy of business class just a few short years ago. The ICE menu looked satisfactory. The cabin staff understood “Whisky and dry ginger” and weren’t averse to refilling with a simple raising of my eyebrows. The Airbus designer wonks had cleverly hidden the headphone jack behind me which is a strange approach but we’ll let that pass.
Meal time arrived. The trolley stopped alongside my shoulders and the pleasant voice mouthed, “Indian or Western?” Noise-cancelling headphones (the best present I have ever given myself) make it impossible to converse with fellow passengers (a good thing) or with cabin staff (a frustrating thing). I press the pause button on the film, switch off the noise-cancel, remove the headphones and say, “Excuse me?”
“Indian or traditional?”
I’m very wary of local food served by Indian airlines because it is ultra-spicy and my delicate constitution doesn’t cope too well. On Indian airlines you always get the choice, “Veg or non-veg?” Here it was Indian or Western.
The food tray alighted on my lap tray. I tentatively scanned the contents. A chicken-looking, pasta starter; the main dish, still enclosed in its space blanket of tin-foil, presumably to preserve its vital signs; a cheap jerseys dessert which I never eat so I have no idea what it was; and the ubiquitous bread roll. Not only ubiquitous but traditionally hard and stale. Do they deliberately store them for a day or so to force a loss of freshness? Do they have a secret dough recipe which infuses staleness right from the get-go? One of the great mysteries of the Universe.
It was time to remove the space-blanket. What was revealed would have done great credit to a documentary enlightening us to the horrors of texting yourself into fleshily-mangled oblivion while driving on fast, country roads.
On the left were vegetables. Not crisp and tasty. Not soft and chewy, but soggy, slimy, mushy things which used to be nutritious cheap jerseys nfl vegetables. On the right was a portion of mash. At first sight, it looked edible but on closer examination, it had obviously been so jealous of its sinister counterparts that it had surreptitiously adopted a persona of squelchy, waterlogged wall-paper paste.
But the pièce de résistance lay lurking malevolently in the center. Mounds of car-crash-mangled flesh could take acting lessons from this work of Tracey Emin art. Damien Hirst would salivate if he was presented with this biological abomination. Ozzie Osbourne would think he’d died and gone to culinary heaven. Freddie Starr, of Freddie Star Ate My Hamster headline fame (The Sun, 13 March, 1986) would be embarrassed at his own lack of ambition. Mere hanging had been too good for this ‘Western’ protein. Previously emasculation, ritual disemboweling, and beheading were deemed appropriate, and then the poor victim was chopped into four discrete portions so that the parts could be displayed across the lands as a warning to others.
I carefully scraped the bloody gore away and underneath revealed an inconsistent, gelatinous, pasty mess pretending to be chicken.
Remember the starter was chicken and pasta. That should have raised warning bells all by itself; why would a chef concoct a starter and a main using the same protein? Slack thinking? Laziness? Apathy? Planned starter not ready so use yesterday’s? None of those really mattered because if the main had been good the chef would have been forgiven.
Intrepid is a great characteristic to emulate so I plowed on. Cutting into the ‘chicken’ and tentatively raising it to my trembling mouth brought back reminiscences of compulsory tablespoons of cod-liver oil after WWII. There’s a cough-medicine sold in New Zealand called Buckley’s. It suppresses the urge to evacuate mucus and broadcast it to the general population. Buckley’s strap-line is, “It tastes awful, but it works.” Brilliant advertising. Genius. This stuff tasted awful but it didn’t work.
You’d think it couldn’t get worse but wait! There’s more.
As the chicken-thing parted it revealed a lake of watery goo swilling around on the floor of the meal tray. This is what had infected the vegetable with sog, slime and mush; this is what had infused the water-logged mash with squelch and wall-paper paste. Or the cooking methodology had been carefully designed to expertly extract all the moisture from the veg and potatoes, deposit it in the base of the tray and then absorb it back through a transmogrified process of osmosis.
Seriously Singapore Airlines; this is not a grade of ‘could do better’; it’s a grade of ‘couldn’t possibly do worse’. Gordon Ramsey would give it an F.
Addendum: My ICE froze during the ‘meal’. It took about twenty minutes for the cabin staff to sort it. But they did; they were good. I did make my connection; however, the aircraft used for the second leg was old, rickety, and tired. The upgraded seats were out of the Ark. The meal was much better – fresh looking and crisp but inevitably including the ubiquitous hard and stale bread roll. And the smiling cabin staff still understood “Whisky and dry ginger.”
Oxymoron: noun. A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.