Around 35,000 feet above the ground as you bite into the dry paneer tikka sandwich, the crumbs fall on your cramped feet, the smell of other similar horrid meals being consumed hangs heavy in recycled cabin air, you realise you are being taken for a proverbial ride as far as food is concerned.
Your tongue, as science explains, is useless that high in the atmosphere. Your body is dehydrated and your brain is starving for entertainment, you chomp on your sandwich hoping the plane lands directly near a restaurant serving 'hot meals' at the end of the runway.
Hunger can foil the best laid holiday plans. This is not metaphorical hunger, but an ill-timed meal can colour your vacation a deep sad blue.
According to a study by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, the combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods by around 30%.
I am on vacation, and it began with that horrible sandwich which the low cost carrier has been serving since its inception. I am not the first to complain about airplane food.
Food prepared two hours in advance can never taste fresh. Even celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay (for Singapore Airlines) and Heston Blumenthal (British Airways) tried to salvage taste once our heads are up in the clouds, but to no avail.
There is a lot going against the airlines, limited space, allergies, prevent people from getting a stomach bug among other concerns, and taste ends up being the fall guy.
But flights over Indian skies do experiment with flavours. The curry leaf features prominently in South Indian ensembles, and the chicken tikka flies frequently up north.
The cookies to keep the kids happy are satisfactory. There is not much to choose, but the umami taste surely rules Indian skies.
From jaljeera drinks to tangy chips, the only way to wake your taste buds is to reach out for the umami flavour.
The next big leap in aeronautics should look at how to make tasty food available mid-flight. Or maybe, scientists can come up with a pill to fool our tongues to think we are digging into gourmet fare mid flight. Food satisfaction on-board is yet to take-off.
Air Vistara, Jet Airways and Air India provide the best meals, where you are also not fumbling for exact change, and exchanging currency.
The low cost airlines, seem to struggle even with the hot water kettles needed to warm up noodles-in-a-cup. But for us passengers, sitting with our comatose tongues, shouldn’t really be complaining, and maybe stop watching movies that feature cooking, food, eating or anything that can get us hungrier.
Of course, we can always get your theplas, dried fruit packets, biscuits stashed in your hand baggage out, mid-flight and savour this as your elbows fight for space from the passenger who is breathing down your shoulder.
As each inch of seat space is being squeezed, maybe that dry paneer tikka sandwich is the best, let us all travel in solidarity eating the same bad food, the captain has blurted, "We are beginning our descent…" A few push and shoves, loud phone calls of “driver kidhar ho?” before the plane doors actually open, and after a squeaky bus ride and baggage carousel Olympics later, we stagger to find a decent restaurant. The dry sandwiches can sustain us no further.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.
First Published: IST