The Continual Disappointment with Airport Food

Airport food

I still to this day cannot understand why airport food continues to be so poor.  Come on.  Is there any reason why you need to subject us to such torture? It shouldn’t be that hard to satisfy air travelers? We are usually tired, frustrated that our flight was delayed again and our expectations are really not set that high. We are a captive audience. You have us at your will as we are running between flights. We actually expect to pay too much for a really bad meal. I don’t believe it has to be that way and despite recent efforts to lift the quality and ambiance, I still give airports a C+ grade.

I have seen some impressive showings over the past few years, specifically in Chicago at Frontera, Rick Bayless taco shop and in Atlanta in the Intetnational terminal.  I’m not quite sure of the location name, but an impressive meal with some real flavor and creativity.   They used fresh ingredients and had an impressive wine list. I ordered a hand tossed, Margharita pizza and dined at the piano bar, so they are at least trying to step up their game in some locations.

We have even seen entire terminals transformed into interactive cafes to accommodate travelers needs for recharging, refueling and instant gratification.  The new Delta terminal in LaGuardia is very impressive with touch screens at every chair, charging stations and small tables instead of uncomfortable chairs spread throughout the entire terminal.  It feels much like a small cafe, but despite putting a pretty bow on the package, the food still was disappointing.  You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.  Specifically, my meal at Crust was terrible.  A Fritatta so dry, a saltine would have tasted like an ocean and it only cost me $13.  What a deal.

It’s just frustrating that millions of dollars and endless hours are spent on these types of improvements and the thing that should shine the most, the food, continues to disappoint.  The norm continues to revolve around bad chain accounts and frozen ingredients. Way too many times am I disappointed with poor execution and cooking and the trend of bad food, continues.

Delta Laguardia1 image

Let’s take another example of my recent meal at Tony Roma’s in the Newark airport.  After a full day of meetings and no lunch I found myself very hungry and utterly emaciated, so I ordered the filet medallions and half rack of ribs. A little treat since this had been my only meal today. Keep I mind, my expectations are extremely low at this point as I am very hungry and desperate for anything that resembles a meal. It’s like when you haven’t eaten in three days, even a slice of Bologna is the star of the charcuterie plate.

The steaks were done well, cooked medium as requested, tender with good flavor. My loaded mashed potatoes came with cardboard as an added bonus. The broccoli was at least fresh, not frozen and the ribs were decent. Small, very little meat, but tender and flavorful despite being drowned in sauce.

Here’s my biggest problem, I paid $26.99 for this meal. I couldn’t imagine the meal I could get for that price at a white table cloth establishment or fast casual restaurant. A lot better than here I am sure. Price to value is my issue with not only airport food, but chains in general. I had an $18 meal at Applebee’s a few year back that was so bad I pledged never to go back, and I haven’t.

Since Tony Roma’s is known for their ribs I figured that is what I should order. In additon to this staple menu item they offer five different sauces for the ribs for which they are so well known.

Let’s review these sauces.
1) TR’s Original – not too bad. Tangy, ketchup based and slightly sweet.

2) Carolina Honey’s- so peppery and terrible I have nothing good to say. No vinegar or flavor whatsoever.

3) Blue Ridge Smokey’s – not too bad, slightly smokey, sweet and fairly balanced. Partial bitterness at end, but not too bad overall.

4) Maker’s Mark Bourbon- if I was Makers Mark I would be embarrassed. No bourbon and I would pull my name from this chunky mess immediately if I was them.

5) TR’a Red Hot- heat is the only thing I get, no flavor. No balance, no respect.

At least the mix of 80’s and 90’s alternative music made me happy as a Gen X’er and my meal partially worth it.

So here’ so the deal.  As air travelers, most of the time on corporate accounts, we are a captive audience willing to and expecting to pay a lot for food.  We are simply looking for and desiring a good meal composed of real food.  Why is it so hard to satisfy this simple request?

We will continue to wait, please don’t continue to disappoint.

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