Food fight in Row 20

Marketplace Staff May 26, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: If you’re hearing this in your car . . . might as well settle in for the duration. Memorial Day’s one of the year’s big travel weekends. And the traffic jams are probably already gumming up your getaway. We all know it’s going to cost a lot more to drive where we want to get than this time last year. If you’re flying . . . well . . . airline fuel prices are up about 36 percent. So tickets are more expensive. And some traditions . . . like decent meals included in the price of your ticket . . . went away long ago. But commentator J.D. Samant says there’s still a way to get on a plane and hold your head high.

J.D. SAMANT: I was in seat 20F on a recent flight. In 20C, noisily unwrapping a deli sandwich was a happy lady, beaming in anticipation of succulence. Stomach rumbling, I felt a pang of envy. I was covetous. I needed 20C’s sandwich.

The pang triggered memories of middle school. My lunchbox often contained, believe it or not, a Spam sandwich. Nobody’d trade me for it in an otherwise brisk lunchtime trade. So I hated my Spam sandwich. It shut me out of the trading pit and marked me as a food loser.

Here in 20F, it was déjá vu.

In the era of airline cost-cutting, of Food for Purchase, gone was the we’re-all-in-it-together-ness of bad airplane food, the camaraderie of Pepto-Bismol shared at the baggage carousel.

Gone, really, was Passenger Equality.

The economy cabin was now split into the high status and the low. Instead of the bonhomie of superheated beef and frozen carrots all around, was the woman in 20C, grinning the high status grin of a well-fed Cheshire cat. And then I, clearly the low man on the passenger totem pole, staring at my austere and miniscule sesame bar. (My wife’s idea, btw, to eat light on the flight).

Would 20C trade me for the sesame bar?

Yeah! Right! It was the Spam sandwich. All. Over. Again. I was once again a food loser.

Well, Resolution 2006. If airline management is going to divide the economy cabin to rule it, I’d better come out on top. So. On my next flight, I’m carrying on a pizza. A steaming, delivery pizza. (My wife is bound to object; accusations of gluttony will fly.)

But watch — 20F will yet be high status.

And when 20C, with her measly sandwich, turns to me, agog with envy, dripping with disbelief, feeling her status plummet, I’ll turn to her and say, “Actually, it’s not DiGiorno. It’s delivery.”

RYSSDAL: J.D. Samant lives, writes in San Francisco.

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