Stephen Bailey
Flashback – Airlines Used to Serve Lobster Thermidor at 30,000 Feet!
Flashback – Airlines Used to Serve Lobster Thermidor at 30,000 Feet!
Stephen Bailey

Yep, the cabin smelt like brine and the passengers dressed like movie stars, but this was the golden age of commercial aviation when anything seemed possible. Like lobster thermidor. And scotch served in crystal glasses.

Lobster is a dangerous article now, the shell too sharp for aviation regulations. Just imagine the headline: “Passenger forces way into cockpit using lobster claw.” It wasn’t that long ago that passengers could casually walk into the cockpit and chat with the pilot.

Back then it was the norm to be served such elaborate food. Not only in business class. A fine dining feast was delivered to all passengers, some who would later spark up their cigars to casually mask the seafood smell.

From the Golden Age to the Golden Egg

That was the golden age, when they gave out postcards on the plane and first class resembled a modern hotel room. Now security officers are ripping people off overbooked flights and even five-star airlines like Emirates are charging passengers to pick their seat.

Grumbles around cruel ancillary costs meant a bill was introduced to US Congress in 2015, hoping to legally prohibit airlines from charging to use a plane’s toilet. What’s next? Charging to board the plane first? Wait, they already do that.

That fable about killing the goose that laid the golden eggs springs to mind. It’s not all grumbling though. Qantas now fly Perth to London direct, Singapore Airlines are rolling out the 787-10 Dreamliner, and Virgin Galactic really are going into space.

Where Did the Space Go?

Commercial aviation is promising bigger and better, but there’s less room to be had, on the plane and in the airport. Back in the golden age there was enough space to wear a three-piece suit without getting chafed. At London Heathrow it seems impossible to get a seat without ordering half a dozen oysters, or a milky $12 cappuccino served in a soup bowl.

The only place to sit in Bangkok International Airport is one of those black vibrating massage chairs. Why are those things always so conspicuously located? To create perverse entertainment for fellow travelers? To showcase a grand spectacle of facial expressions? To show what it’s like to get stabbed in the neck by a broken spring? Those chairs are dangerous articles, not lobster thermidor.

Lobster to Luckless Hours on the Move

Okay, flying is much more common now than it was in the 1950s. A little magic was always going to be lost when taking a flight became a necessity, not a treat. Commercial aviation has been reduced to its basic functionality, boiled down to the simple means of getting from A to B, a victory for technology over service.

Except it’s never really A to B because hub spoke routing isn’t the fastest way to fly. Bad service is one thing, getting forced to overnight in Heathrow Terminal 2 is quite another.

Commercial Aviation in the Future

Times have changed and really, too much fish on a plane is only going to create a stench. And what about passengers with shellfish allergies?

There are different considerations today, like how to minimise travel time and still get treated like a human.

As the Covid-pandemic continues to wreck airline schedules perhaps there is a silver lining. Singapore Airlines did bring back lobster thermidor as part of their book the cook program, available to first-class passengers only.

Fishy suppers aside, there is a way commercial airlines can rethink and bring back something of the golden age.

The magic of flying continues to be the feeling that anything is possible. Back in the 1950s that was dressing like a Bond villain and eating elaborate airplane food.

Now it is simply returning to the idea that flying is an experience, not a means of going from A to B. Being in the airport and getting on a plane shouldn’t feel like being in a bus station queuing to board a sweaty overnight bus. That creates a sense of dread.

We are desperate to travel again. We are desperate to fly again. And the first airline to make us feel just a little bit special, the first airline to give that feeling of joy and adventure, is likely to win themselves a long-term customer.

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