Crew Meals

by Capt. Ken Kahn

Since Seaboard flights tended to be very long, the crew meals provided by the company were often the only food we ate that day. The quality of those meals could have a strong effect on our morale.

An inflight meal at the beginning of my career at Seaboard set a standard that would not be matched again. After I completed the ground school part of my training, I was sent to Miami for flight-simulator training at Eastern Airlines. Eastern transported us in first class. Although the flight was little more than two hours long, the meal service was superb. As soon as we were seated, we were offered beverages. After takeoff, dinner service began with a shrimp cocktail. Then, the flight attendant came down the aisle with a large roast on a cart and a large electric carving knife. The roast was cooked so that she could cut slabs to order, from rare to well-done. Appropriate side dishes, including potatoes, vegetables, and salad were offered, along with a choice of more beverages. A hot-fudge sundae for dessert was a nice touch, along with coffee and other after-dinner beverages.

Once I got out on the line, meal service was a different kettle of fish, so to speak. I once saw the order form for the catering that Seaboard bought from a catering company at JFK. It listed first-class meals, business-class meals, economy-class meals, and, at the bottom, crew meals. Guess which we got. They were usually in the form of TV dinners, prepackaged meals typically consisting of meat, chicken, or fish; mashed potatoes, and vegetables in an aluminum tray that was heated in the small oven on board. The ingredients often ended up swimming in the same greasy soup. Crewmembers sometimes referred to unidentifiable ingredients as "mystery meat." At one point, there were so many complaints that the company circulated a survey. One crewmember replied that he didn't care for the meal on his previous flight but that he did like the picture of the dog on the package. There was little or no noticeable improvement.

Occasionally, mostly at other stations, we did enjoy better fare. For a flight from JFK to Charleston, S.C., flight engineer Lloyd Churchey arrived with a sack of clams that he had dug from Great South Bay near his home on Long Island. He also brought some lemons and cocktail sauce. Eating clams on the half shell in the cockpit of a freighter was a unique, never-forgotten treat. During our layover in Charleston, Lloyd bought fried chicken and watermelon which we enjoyed during the flight from Charleston to Frankfurt, Germany.

For a brief period, I flew some trips referred to as Scandinavian shuttles. We typically flew from London to Copenhagen to Stockholm to Amsterdam and back to London. They lasted all night and were very grueling. We did eat well, though. At Copenhagen, first-class cold platters from SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) were put aboard. We finished them off. At Amsterdam, a box of at least a dozen first-class KLM pastries was put aboard. The four of us ate them all during the short flight to London.

Other memorable treats were the ham and cheese sandwiches put on our flights from Paris to New York. They were on baguettes generously spread with butter and mustard. They seemed to be as good as such a sandwich could possibly be. None of them ever survived the crossing.

Then there was my first Seaboard Christmas dinner, but that's another story.

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