*If I owned an airline, I’d charge top dollar for tickets. I’d make you pay for extra bags. And like all airlines, I’d forever be searching for ways to squeeze yet another fee out of my passengers.
But on my airline, the Chicken Marsala, the smothered swordfish and the peach cobbler would be off the chain.
That’s because, if I owned an airline, my thing would be about food. Great food. The way people take budget lines for economy’s sake or fly big ticket international carriers for the sheer luxury is the reason people would board my planes–for the Short Ribs, the Lobster Bisque and the Peking duck.
Let other carriers battle over who has more flights going to wherever. Pietanza Airlines–Italian for “meal”–would be about the grub.
Some people couldn’t care less about eating while they fly. If you’re okay grabbing a Subway sandwich or a Cinnabon and some Starbucks, more power to you. But if on your flight from Dallas to Chicago you have a hankering for a great Prime Rib French Dip sandwich or you like the idea of Sushi over Seattle, then Pietanza would be your airline. Our specialty would be getting you from point A to point B and feeding you a great meal in the process.
Of course, this brilliant idea came to me where it comes to most people: while on a discount carrier, starving at 30,000 feet, desperate for flight attendants to come around with the peanuts and soft drinks.
I remember when commercial air travel was an event, one of its major attractions being the in-flight meal. All the major airlines served passengers a meal, no matter your seat class. Usually there was a choice of dishes with chicken or beef. If you were a vegetarian, which I was during the ’70s, you pre-ordered an uninspired “special” plate of steamed vegetables, a dry salad and dinner roll.
The meals weren’t exactly flavor fests, but it was something. Today, in the interest of cutting costs, airlines are deciding sustenance isn’t integral to the in-fight experience. The public seems to agree, and the real winner in the scarcity of quality airline food is the burgeoning airport terminal concession business.
However, Pietanza ticket holders would stride right past McDonald’s and the pita sandwich stand. They’d have saved their appetites specifically for the flight.
At Pietanza, the x-ray and body security searches would be unsparing, but passengers wouldn’t complain. They’d concur with the airline’s creed–you can’t enjoy a great meal if you’re worried about being blown up mid air.
On my airline, there’d be but one class: cooking class. Efficient, inventive chefs with an ambitious staff would helm the aircraft’s custom galley and create the kind of chow that would prompt the Michelin Guide to take the unprecedented step of awarding three stars to our airline food.
I know what you’re thinking: there’s stuff you can’t cook while flying. Cabin pressure and all. Don’t piss on my campfire. If they can go to the moon, surely they can find a way to allow in-flight chocolate souffle to rise.
Only from the window of a Pietanza Boeing could a passenger casually look out onto the tarmac and witness, among the usual support activity, a truck whose tank reads VIRGIN OLIVE OIL and a van being unloaded of fresh organic produce.
Fake juice and protein bars? Breakfast on Pietanza would be Belgian waffles, eggs any style, hash browns, pancakes, oatmeal, fresh fruit and juices, bagels, warm croissants, turkey bacon, French toast, chicken sausage, buttermilk biscuits and our trademarked honey grits.
Lunch might be a choice of Grilled Salmon or Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Broiled Peaches; Dinner could be Pan-Seared Orange Tuna or Apple Mushroom Risotto.
And that would just be the written menu. Depending on their mood, a chef might go rogue and offer the last ten rows of a dinner flight samples of her mother’s recipe for Brazilian crab cakes. A chef working a lunchtime flight could whip up a batch of cranberry butter cookies for the girl’s college swim team on board.
My airline would serve traditional Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner on those days; on the 4th of July there’d be classic American fare such as fried chicken, mac and cheese, candied yams, greens and mashed potatoes, all fluffy and buttered up.
On a Pietanza red eye, you wouldn’t starve. The snack menu would resemble a midnight kitchen raid: cold gourmet pizza, hot chocolate, herbal teas, homemade guava juice, our famous fried egg sandwich.
My fleet would differ from other commercial carriers. For obvious reasons, we’d have one restroom more than other planes. A special automated air and fragrance system would take care of the noxious happenings that occur when human beings loosen their belts after a big meal.
Legendary would be the stories regarding Pietanza and the loving power of its cuisine. Like the tale of the lone terrorist who managed to slip onto a flight but made the crucial mistake of bringing along his appetite. According to folklore, after the meal, he just couldn’t bear to blow himself up, fearing there is no pan-fried catfish in the afterlife.
Pietanza’s success would be based on the simple fact that people travel and people eat. Flying today can be stressful; good food is comforting. If you could have both at a reasonable price, wouldn’t you?
No one likes paying extra for bags. However, most passengers would actually leave our flights carrying more than they came with. The delicious contents of a Pietanza doggie bag would somehow manage to lighten even the heaviest of loads.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].