Staving off starving on domestic flights

Written by admin on June 4, 2009 – 5:35 pm -

It depends on the airline, but if you’re flying domestically, chances are good you aren’t going to be served food. Lord knows how much money the airlines are saving by cutting out the tiny packages of pretzel snacks that used to be served with your soft drink.

Before heading to the airport, check to see if there’s a meal included. Even if there is, you might want to pass. Airline food can be akin to food much in the same way as military music may be an ersatz form of music.

Yesterday I was on a scheduled five-hour-plus flight that took more than six hours. I’m usually fine without eating but realized I’d left for the airport three hours prior to the flight. My stomach was audibly growling.

I broke down and bought a “chef’s” salad and a beer for $15. The beer won the taste prize by miles.

Looking around, I could see and SMELL so many different meals. I am not a curry fan and the odor made me queasy. The people sitting next to me had raided McDonalds and smells of grease were intensified in the confined area with minimal circulation.

So what food should pack for flights? Here are some ideas:

Power bars, snack mixes, raisins and candy are compact. The later should be in moderation if you’re traveling with children. Sugar highs are great recipes for making kids want to run up and down the cramped aisles.

Peanut butter sandwiches, bagels with cream cheese or your favorite sandwiches cure lots of hunger pangs

Fruit (fresh or dried) is healthy and you’ll feel virtuous in the calorie department.  When grapes and cherries are in season, freeze them at home and by the time you’re ready to eat them in flight, they’ll have that fresh taste. Ditto goes for many sandwiches. Pack them in a small-insulated bag.

Raw vegetables with a dip can be filling and are good for vegetarians and the weight conscious.

If you’re watching your budget or are a quasi-gourmet, steer clear of buying food at the airport. Chances are it was made in an off-site kitchen hours before it reached its destination. And it may sit there even longer. The main exception is yogurt which may not make it through security.

Stop at your favorite deli and have them pack a picnic. Please steer clear of sauerkraut. People dislike food smells on planes. A business flyer said,  “It’s generally the leisure traveler who thinks it’s a good idea to bring barbeque food or chicken laced with garlic accompanied with cabbage.”

Other musts — and you’ll be sorry if you forget them:

Napkins, a plate or something that can serve as one, utensils (plastic – to insure they pass through security screening), a couple of plastic bags for leftovers and hand wipes should be on everyone’s list. And do bring a plastic bag so you can dispose of your garbage. It’s only polite to try to keep planes clean.

Some people go to extremes. On one Paris-New York trip and another between Los Angeles and Washington, DC, I sat next to passengers who had picnic boxes prepared by the glitzy hotels where they’d been staying. I was surprised since we were in business class. But they shared the religion of refusing to eat airline food and drank only bottled water.

How are you dealing with hunger without fainting from starvation on flights that are longer than a few hours? This is where the Boy Scout mantra of being prepared needs to be taken to heart!

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Four appetizing (and less expensive) alternatives to room service

Written by admin on April 21, 2009 – 6:00 pm -

For some travelers, hotel room service is the-be-all to end-all. It is considered the height of indulgence. Guests staying in a swanky hotel with a very special lover may not want to leave the room after dark, or for that matter, during the day. It may be a sybarite’s dream when the waiter appears with an iced bottle of champagne and silver trays of assorted delectable nibbles.

But many business travelers find room service a nightmare.

They dislike how the room smells after the meal. Some develop a sense of claustrophobia from eating and sleeping in the same place, especially if the quarters are small. Travelers often resent the cost of in-room meals and few know the precise tipping etiquette. (Do they give the waiter one when a service charge is included?  FYI, the answer is yes.)

Here are some alternatives to room service for intrepid travelers either looking for a way to save a few dollars or searching for a local experience.

Buy take-in meals at a local store. Skip room service by picking up something to eat at a local grocery store and eat in the room. Remember to beg, borrow or steal some utensils, a plate and a napkin (OK, use a towel).

• Get local take-out. Ask at the front desk, the staff frequently has a list of restaurants that deliver in case you’re craving a deep-dish pizza with all of the trimmings or chicken and cashews from a nearby Chinese restaurant. The meal may or may not be good but it probably will be accompanied by a fortune cookie that might give you an indication as to how successful the trip will be.

• Get out and try the local cuisine. You may score a great meal or one you wouldn’t want to foist off on an enemy. But it might be interesting. Never eat at chain restaurants is a rule some people hold near and dear. The food tends be mediocre to good; but why should you eat at someplace you can find at home?

During nice weather, diners often prefer to go to restaurants, especially ones with outdoor sitting, where they can park themselves and people watch. When traveling on business, few people have enough time for sightseeing. This is a good way to observe people in their daily lives. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe is certainly one of my favorite things to do.

• Try a meal at a local bar. They may or may not be on the hotel’s premises but usually one makes for good people watching and who knows, you might strike up a conversation. Whether or not you want to be chatty is up to you. Most bartenders are very good at picking up your signals and may let you veg out watching the bar’s TV or expedite a conversation or two.

Left to your own devices, which do you prefer? Do you eat in the room, hit the town (more or less) or isolate yourself in cyberspace even though you’re surrounded by people?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

At business lunch, who picks up the tab these days?

Written by admin on February 16, 2009 – 9:02 pm -

The International Herald Tribune ran an article this past weekend about a new dance that’s taking place. At the power lunch, the check is kryptonite. Clearly not everyone is frequenting the Beverly Hill Hotel. But entertaining budgets have come under scrutiny during these difficult economic times.

There are occasions when you have to spend big bucks to close a deal. But it’s time to be creative and make subtle cutbacks. Be sure you factor in cultural mores when conducting business in other countries.

Most people believe the person who does the inviting should pick up the tab. But they’re are looking for less expensive options. Some suggest patronizing a favorite restaurant and asking the owner or the manager for a discount since times are tough. The hope is that some members of the group will return once they’ve eaten there so it may serve as public relations for future business.

A business owner with whom I spoke said he doesn’t want to give the impression that money is no object when businesses are so bottom-line conscious.

Others suggested a pre-fixed lunch menu with limited choices. When it’s a large group, would the restaurant be willing to comp one or two of the group? Or throw in free desserts and coffee?

Another thought – there’s no mandate business has to be done over lunch. How about breakfast or mid-morning coffee? Another option is having a catered lunch sent into the office and eating (and discussing business) in the conference room.

Some say they’re inviting business guests to lunch in a pub. One caveat: Be sure your table is situated in an area where you can hear people speak and diners don’t leave with headaches.

If you’re entertaining an out-of-town colleague or a potential client, inviting them to dinner at your home may be one way to make a friend forever. Before doing so, be sure it’s an inviting and conducive environment. If there are children running around the dinner table, your good intentions may end up going down the tubes…and fast.

What advice can you offer as to how to entertain without declaring bankruptcy?  This is war.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

A Valentine’s Day full of love without the expense

Written by admin on February 12, 2009 – 9:04 pm -

Some couples traditionally take off for the weekend or go on a mini-vacation to celebrate Valentine’s Day. They may just go to a local inn but it’s become a part of the dating/mating tradition.

Or they might eat at a favorite restaurant to toast their love. This is especially true in Paris where many feature special hearts and flowers menus, accompanied with pink champagne, so diners may express their adoration. Or perhaps their intentions.

Holiday meals invariably carry a monetary premium. Even though there’s usually a more limited menu, the fact that it’s a special event is license to charge more. Ah, the heart-shaped cake and the complementary chocolates. Women dress up and the dining room is decorated for the occasion. Perhaps there’s a string quartet.

This year may be the time to hold back but not delete the day from the calendar. Plan a festive dinner at home. But you’ll need to add some thought as how to make the evening memorable.

Begin your evening with a very French Kir Royale. Some gourmets feel the drink should be made with cassis (a raspberry liqueur) and good champagne. Most people can’t tell the difference between champagne and a sparkling wine when it’s mixed with cassis. But your bill at the liquor store will be very different. If you’re wine drinkers, buy a nice bottle, but it doesn’t have to be a vintage one with dust on it.

Ask the wine specialist to recommend one that’s moderately priced and will compliment to your meal. Prepare a favorite dinner but make it special by using good china and good glasses. If you don’t have them, buy two thin-rimmed wine glasses. It’s a lot less expensive than going out and every home should have a pair. Crate & Barrel, Ikea and comparable stores have moderately priced goblets that will do the job. No need to buy crystal stemware in this economy.

Candles do wonders when it comes to making rooms more romantic. Buy red and white ones at the grocery store; glimmering votive candles add to the ambiance.

Dress for the occasion as if you were going out. Differentiate this evening from others.

Pick out your favorite CDs and have them waiting. You may want a couple to which you can dance. Who knows?

For dessert, chocolate cupcakes with red icing and some sparkles feel festive and can satisfy your sweet tooth.

With the downturn of the economy, this is a time to be creative. Rather than sending a vase filled with long-stemmed red roses, consider a red box of dried rose petals containing a romantic card or note.

Even though the economy has never been worse since the depression, do you think Michele and Barack Obama won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day? I’ll wager they’ll be doing something special.

How do you plan to express your affection?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis. She’s an incurable romantic.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Do you really want to eat after midnight on long-haul flights?

Written by admin on November 24, 2008 – 12:54 pm -

Why do airlines insist on feeding passengers when it’s long after the dinner hour?  Even after midnight? If passengers haven’t already eaten, it’s because they don’t want to. That is, of course, with the proviso that passengers are fed at all, which is rarely the case when when winging across the country on a domestic flight (except on Continental).

Perhaps you have an answer, but I don’t get it. Most people, it would seem, who board planes at midnight or later, prefer to sleep. Three course meals are rarely on their minds. Flight attendants I know can confirm that passengers may want a drink or two (only for medicinal purposes) to help them doze off. But food isn’t of much interest.

During the past week, I have flown on two long-haul flights that departed after midnight. I was fortunate to be able to upgrade to business class with frequent flier miles. The business-class sections on both legs of each trip were full and most passengers were asleep within minutes after the captain announced it was OK to sit back, recline and relax.

There’s another dining conundrum that in my experience U.S. carriers fail to address. After sleeping for six or seven hours, I wake up ravenous. I don’t expect or want a full dinner. But how about something more substantial than potato chips and chocolate bars? On the last 15-hour-long business class flight I took, I had to beg for a sandwich, which was hijacked by an accommodating flight attendant who raided the first class galley.

After comparing U.S. flights to the ones I recently took on Open Skies from Kennedy to Paris, I shot an email to Chris Vukelich, an executive with the airline. I asked him about shifting the dining timetables.

His response was short and to the point. “Most airlines in business class provide some flexibility when it comes to eating. British Airways offers a program called “Raid the Larder” which allows Club World passengers to choose from sandwiches and other items when they want to eat, even if they have had the regularly scheduled meal or chose not to eat it. The lack of flexibility by most U.S. carriers to their business class passengers is incredible.”

Other airlines, such as both Virgin and BA, provide pre-flight meals in the business/first-class lounge. Passengers can then go right to sleep after take-off. These pre-flight meals are perfect when flying on relatively short overnight hops such as Boston-London or NY-London.

When traveling in Asia, I find it’s worth maintaining a club pass for entrance to business class lounges. These lounges normally offer passengers breakfast, lunch and dinner finger food. They also provide snacks, free alcoholic drinks and free Internet access.

When traveling on Asian airlines, if passengers awaken mid-flight, there is always something to nibble on, no matter the hour. In addition, the staff is gracious about serving a hungry passenger in their seat if the passenger requests.

On most U.S. airlines, passengers often come away with the feeling they’re imposing on the staff.

What is wrong with this picture? There’s cost cutting, but it rarely feels like passengers are the priority. U.S. airlines should learn that it doesn’t take much to buy loyalty but it’s up to the airlines to make the additional efforts.

No one relishes feeling like cattle. Heck, even cattle aren’t fed after midnight.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |