The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
Want a Better Airline Meal? Pack Your Own
January 22, 1994 -- There's good news and bad news about airline food. The good news is that in-flight fare is lower in salt, fat and cholesterol than ever before. The bad news is that airline food is still, well, airline food.

In fairness to the airlines, remember that they serve literally millions of meals every day. Pulling off that gastronomic and logistical feat requires them to cook entrees days in advance, chill them, transport them, reheat them during the flight and then serve them one passenger at a time. In fairness to your body, however, there's no reason to voluntarily eat a standard in-flight meal. You can do better. Here's how.

Assemble your own meals This option is so obvious and so easy it's hard to understand why more travelers don't try it. Preparing a meal for in-flight consumption isn't much more difficult than preparing a picnic. Anything that works for a picnic probably will do nicely on an airplane. Whole fruits, fresh breads and small wedges of cheese are excellent choices. So are cold pieces of cooked chicken, sliced meats and pasta salads. Sandwiches are easy. A selection of raw vegetables make a healthy snack.

Makes you wonder why the airlines don't serve this kind of fare themselves, doesn't it?

For storage, buy a small, insulated bag and a supply of reusable ice packs. Pack food in resealable plastic bags and bring utensils, paper napkins and plates. Don't forget single-serve packets of condiments and spices.

Buy before you fly This is another good option often overlooked by travelers. Any gourmet or take-out shop will prepare and pack a meal if you call ahead. If you want to purchase a meal for the flight back home, call room service at your hotel. Most room service kitchen will gladly prepare a simple boxed meal if you give them advance notice.

Order an airline special meal Depending on the route and the carrier, airlines have as many as two dozen types of special meals. American travelers are most familiar with special-order kosher, seafood, child's and vegetarian meals, but airlines offer a variety of choices based on the dietary and religious requirements of their passengers. Since these meals are prepared in smaller quantities and often ordered from a special caterer, the food is usually of a higher quality than standard airline fare. But be sure to order special meals at least 24 hours in advance and reconfirm your request before departure. And be prepared to forfeit that meal if you make a last-minute flight change.

Carry your own water The process of flying even short distance tends to dehydrate your body. Experienced travelers routinely drink copious amounts of water throughout the course of a flight. But since in-flight beverage service is sporadic, be sure to bring your own water aboard. Make room for a resealable, liter-sized plastic bottle in your carry-on bag.

There's no need for travelers to get caught in Rome's eternal traffic jams now that a direct rail link operates between the airport and Termini Station in the heart of the city. The 30-minute ride costs 12,000 lira (about $7) one-way. ... Desperate for a good New York hotel room at a reasonable price. Go where I send my in-laws: the Murray Hill East Suites (800-221-3037). Located in a mostly residential neighborhood, the Murray Hill East has no restaurant, but often rents studio suites for as little as $99 a night. I also suggest the sleek, full-service Hotel Macklowe (800-622-5569). Weekend rates there are as low as $135 a night. ... If you watch the Winter Olympics Games next month and fall in love with Lillehammer and the Norwegian countryside, don't bother booking a summer package tour. Most relegate Lillehammer to a whistle stop. Instead, fly to Oslo on SAS Scandinavian (800-221-2350) and have the airline arrange a one-week Hertz car rental for just $69 a couple. ... If barging the canals of France is financially unfeasible, consider the domestic alternative: the New York State Canal System. The system, including the storied Erie Canal, was a 19th Century information superhighway and linked New York to the rest of the nation. A charming map and brochure, Unlock the Legend, introduces travelers to the canals' current attractions. Copies are available from the New York State Canal Corporation, P.O. Box 189, Albany, NY 11201.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

This column is Copyright 1994-2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.