The meals on airplanes these days aren’t what they used to be. When airplanes have food available, it’s usually a snack box of prepackaged crackers, cheeses, cookies and/or a prepared sandwich. It’ll get you through the flight when you’re hungry, but it’s hardly a gourmet meal.
This is all only when you’re flying coach, of course. Now, I don’t mind going without food or with only the homemade cookies that I packed for a few hours during the flight, but it’s certainly nice to get a meal served to you when you have a long day of traveling to do. The rules are different if you find yourself on a long-haul international flight, or when you’re flying in first class, where you’re still served meals, offered hot towels and poured complimentary drinks.
I tend to be a bargain hunter when it comes to shopping for airfare for my travels and usually opt for a coach seat, but that doesn’t mean I won’t jump at the chance to fly on a better airline or upgrade my seat when the deal seems to offer a good value. For instance, longer flights are sometimes worth paying a little extra for an airline with more perks or more leg room. There have also been times when I’ve found first class fares for almost the same price as coach fares – and that is how I happened to end up in First Class on Virgin America, one of my favorite domestic carries, for a cross country trip.
I was in the air in the evening and that meant that I was treated to dinner with Virgin America. The start off the dining experience by laying a white “tablecloth” over your tray table and setting it with real silverware, a cloth napkin and an adorable airplane salt and pepper shaker. Dinner included two courses and dessert. The portions weren’t huge – but they were satisfying and definitely seemed like restaurant dishes that I would expect to find on the ground.
The first course was a French Green Bean Salad: cold haricot verts topped with shaved Parmesan cheese, pitted country olives and toasted hazelnuts, finished with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. It was light and refreshing, a good choice for spring. I particularly liked the toasted hazelnuts, as they added a lot of crunch and made the salad a bit heartier.
The main course options included Roasted Chicken Breast with Apple Fig Compote and a Farro Risotto with Spring Succotash. The chicken did sound delicious, but I enjoy farro and decided top go for the risotto instead. The risotto wasn’t as creamy as a rice-based risotto, but that didn’t take away from the flavors at all. It included pureed fresh corn, mascarpone, basil, and Parmesan cheese, and it was topped with a sweet corn, herb and leek succotash, as well as sautéed shitake mushrooms. Again, I enjoyed the freshness of the vegetables, and it had more flavor than plenty of other farro dishes that I’ve been served as sides in restaurants (for some reason farro, bulgur, quinoa and other grains seem to be underseasoned more often than rice and pasta).
Dessert was called a “Raspberry Key Lime Pave” and consisted of vanilla sponge cake layered with raspberry and key lime mousse and topped with white chocolate shavings. Considering that the last “dessert” I had on an airplane was a snack-sized package of Oreo cookies, this was downright amazing for an in-flight treat. The flavors were clear and bright, and the textures of the mousse and cake were just right. Fortunately, my neighbor declined his slice, so I was able to get seconds.
My favorite part about flying in first class is that you get real cutlery, glasses and plates. It is much more satisfying to sip hot coffee from a real mug than it is to sip it from a paper cup, even if it’s the same coffee. And I definitely appreciated ending this flight with a cup of fresh coffee to perk me up for the rest of my trip. It may be a while before I fly first class again, but it is a fun splurge to get first class treatment once in a while!