For airline travelers, eating on the road used to mean staring in horror at an in-flight meal that’s somewhere between cardboard and dog food, or grabbing bad takeout at the airport in a mad dash to the gate. No longer: Thanks to the exciting new food options available from airlines and airports worldwide, and the over-the-top luxe meals now being served on certain flights (and in certain cabins, of course), frequent fliers can now actually look forward to mealtime—whether they're flying coach or posting up in first class.
At Los Angeles’ LAX airport, the terminals are getting a culinary makeover and kicking out the sad pizza kiosks of old—following in the footsteps of New York City's JFK, which has scored hits with eateries like Deep Blue Sushi and the Parisian-style bistro La Vie. Now at LAX, you can pick up your in-flight meal from outpots of Southern California hotspots like 800 Degrees (known for its outstanding pizza), or Cole's (was the iconic French Dip sandwich invented at the original downtown Los Angeles location? The debate rages on). For a glam sit-down meal before you fly, hit B Grill by BOA, a branch of the swanky Santa Monica steakhouse serving signatures like petite filet mignon with red wine butter.
Meanwhile, at London’s Heathrow Airport, all 118 food outlets are now offering hampers to feast on in-flight, filled with everything from sandwiches from Pret a Manger to caviar and smoked salmon from The Caviar House, to high-end meals supplied by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's airport restaurant.
If you happen to be holding a platinum American Express card (or if you have the company's basic green card and are willing to pay $50), you can indulge pre-flight at the Centurion Lounges. A sneak-peak at what they offer: a full line of craft cocktails created by master mixologist Jim Meehan of acclaimed NYC cocktail bar PDT; a menu of dishes designed by star chefs like Scott Conant, Dean Fearing and Cedric Vongerichten; and luxury suites with showers and posh toiletries, to help unwind after an exhausting nosh session.
If you’re flying JetBlue’s new Mint Class cross-country from New York City to California, you won't need to worry about stocking up on food before you get on the flight. You’ll get to feast on dishes by chef Brad Farmerie of the hot New York City restaurant Saxon + Parole, plus artisanal ice cream from Blue Marble and pastries from cult-favorite Mah-Ze-Dahr bakery. The fresh, inventive on-board dishes—like watermelon salad with feta, basil and pumpkin seeds, or French toast with figs and toasted pecans, or scrambled eggs with slab bacon—bear zero resemblance to airline meals of the past.
To up the first-class ante even more, The Residence suites aboard the Etihad A380 (debuting December 27 on flights from Abu Dhabi to London) will not only have their own living room, a bathroom with a shower, and a bedroom equipped with a double bed; passengers will also get their own personal chef and a completely customizable menu. Craving Japanese fugu (blowfish)? Or matzo-ball soup made just like your mother’s? The Residence's chef and personal butler will aim to deliver. The price? A whopping $21,000 per ticket. The bill may go up if you want, say, a 1988 Chateau d'Yquem—but hey, what's an extra thousand dollars or so?
And for anyone who misses those old compartmentalized airline plates, Lufthansa is selling its business-class meals to fans in Germany. There, online grocer Allyouneed.com can deliver a genuine Lufthansa airline meal to customers’ doorsteps every Wednesday. So far, the program has been so successful that it’s expected to be extended several months past its original test period. All you need now is someone you don't know stealing your arm rest to really set the mood.