Saturday, December 3, 2011

Welcome to Virtual First Class

Prepping Pasta for Next Day's Virtual First Class Meal

If you were sitting next to me in the Economy section of Virgin America flight from JFK to LAX yesterday, it’s okay if you were jealous.  I was flying Virtual First Class while you, my seatmates, were eating stinky French Onion Sunchips. Play your cards right and I’ll let you in on the secret to my supremely comfortable and delicious flight.

For the average peon of travel, economy flights are really the only option, particularly when flying domestically.  But cross-country flights can be a real drag.  At upwards of six hours of flight time not including time traveling to and from the airport and time you need to get there early for check-in, there is simply no way to avoid eating something at some point during the journey.  And as anyone who has ever stood in front of the dismal options of an airport food court or perused the Snack Box menu onboard knows, this meal is likely to be at best filling and will almost certainly leave you depressed at the notion that you actually spent money to eat that way.

Enter Virtual First Class.  I cannot take credit for this title.  A friend of my boyfriend’s coined it for her practice of packing a gourmet picnic lunch to take on board long haul flights where she was flying Economy.  The day before her ordeal, she would stop by the deli and load up on nice salami, cheese, and good crackers.  She would pack linen, some silverware, and even a half bottle of wine in the pre-9/11 days.  Avoiding the grease of a pre-flight meal and the tasteless options inflight, this clever traveler passed her airtime in relative comfort with food that might even have been a notch above that being served at the front of the plane.

I have taken to adapting this strategy for my own.  If it is going to be an especially long travel day I might even go so far as to pack breakfast, lunch, and a snack.  Liquids of course are limited (bye bye to BYO wine days) and refrigeration is not possible, but other than that just about anything goes. 

While my flying companions subsisted on their airport snacks, I brought out one meal after the next during the six-hour flight.  Wrapped tightly in my new birthday pashmina to ward off the plane chill (who needs those scratchy first class blankets anyway?), I nibbled on a breakfast of homemade banana-walnut bread while sipping my favorite green tea from a travel mug and reading the paper.  A few hours later, as lunch pangs set in, I pulled a thin plastic food container from my bag.  Pasta of small shells, chicken apple sausage, lemon, and parsley tasted just as good at room temperature as it had hot off the stove for dinner the night before.  A couple of foil wrapped dark chocolate pieces satiated my sweet tooth.  I was so pleased with my resourcefulness and the tastiness of my Virtual First Class meal, I splurged and purchased a $7 IPA from a San Francisco microbrewery to wash it all down. 

To my seatmates from Virgin America and all others facing cross-country trips this season, no need to pay to fly up front, fly the Virtual First Class way.  Bring some delicious food from home, a nice warm wrap, and good headphones to drown out the talking heads around you and you might just be surprised how a little good food can go a long way to making a six hour flight comfortable. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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