Why pilots never eat the same meal

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In February 1975, for example, 196 passengers and a flight attendant on a Japan Airlines service from Tokyo to Paris fell ill with severe food poisoning after eating a batch of questionable omelettes. The ham they contained was laden with Staphylococci bacteria, and when the plane stopped to refuel in Copenhagen, 143 people were sick enough to require hospitalization. By sheer luck, the pilots didn’t eat the wrong pork (they insisted on the steak, as their biological clocks weren’t in breakfast mode) and were able to land the plane safely. The story has a dark coda. While no one died from the outbreak, the cook believed to be responsible committed suicide shortly thereafter.

More recently, a 2010 report by the Civil Aviation Authority suggested that between 30 and 50 pilots, flying to or from a UK airport, are incapacitated at the controls each year – many from food poisoning. He highlighted an incident aboard a 747 which saw the captain needing oxygen, and another which resulted in an emergency landing in Malaga.

In addition to eating different meals from each other, airline pilots (and cabin crew) are often offered different meals from passengers. Failing that, they can usually get something from the premium menu – so don’t bother complaining about your disappointing stew in economy class.

Finnair said: “Since 1975 it has been common practice in aviation that the captain and co-pilot do not eat the same meal. This practice is followed on all Finnair flights. On long-haul flights, our Cabin Crew Member and Cabin Crew Member eat the same meals in Business Class as our customers (the Captain and the First Officer have different meals). On short-haul flights where meal service is more limited, our crew eat dedicated meals.

Virgin added: “As our pilots and crew fly weekly, they offer different meals to our customers to provide some variety. These meals consist of sandwiches, salads, a selection of hot dishes (breakfast, lunch or dinner, with vegetable and meat options) as well as snacks including fruit, nuts, crisps and chocolate.

And where do they enjoy their special menu? Some planes contain secret rooms, where flight attendants can catch 40 winks, so is there a sneaky Tardis-like canteen up there? No. “Our pilots will eat in the cockpit and cabin crew will eat in the galleys when on break,” Virgin said. What a pity.

Airlines also allow crews to bring their own food – and many prefer to rely on their own cooking skills.

“After 35 years and at least six cases of food poisoning, except in extreme and controlled circumstances, I will not eat crew meals,” Steve Derebey, an American pilot, told Quora. “I have no doubt that kitchens are safe, but, once the meal leaves the kitchen, all bets are off. Our aircraft coolers rarely cool to a safe temperature of 41F. More often than not, they will from 50F to 70F.

“International meals are a little better, but still sorely lacking in quality. Before each flight, I make sure I am well fed and have enough emergency food with me so that if the crew meal is spoiled or inedible, I can survive until I arrive. to destination.

Which could well be a lesson for all of us. Airplane food is rarely delicious, and all that plastic and trash is pretty shameful. Maybe it’s time we all started relying on Britain’s Great Packed Lunch?

After all, that would come full circle in the in-flight food story. Indeed, on October 11, 1919, the airline’s first meals were served on a Handley-Page flight from London to Paris. These were pre-packed lunch boxes at three shillings each and contained the tried and true triumvirate of sandwich, fruit and chocolate (for the record, the website Measuringworth.com suggests this works out to around £7.30 today) .

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