2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Breakfast Is Best at 40,000 Feet

Breakfast Is Best at 40,000 Feet

Industrial Goodness in the Cockpit

During my normal workweek as a pilot, I receive a standard airline wake-up call at 3:30 am on average.

My airline generally provides decent hotels who offer quiet rooms and an expansive breakfast buffet on the house. However, the freshly cooked omelets, the bacon, the haggis (when in Scotland), the flaky croissants, are available when the buffet opens at 7 am. In the typically bastardly ways of fine print, the hotel slips a caveat into the crew information that “early departing crew will be provided with a continental breakfast option.”

In Hamburg, we receive one roll and one piece of questionable salami per person. In Billund, we get Nescafé and last night’s cheese and crackers. In Venice, the superbly tuxedoed waiter prepares fresh cappuccino and double espressos to accompany a buffet so pitiful it defeats description. In Budapest, it is a cling-wrapped bread roll best used as a weapon. Suffice to say, it’s not worth it.

Nowadays, I pack my bags the night before, lay out my uniform precisely to allow for maximum dressing speed, and request a wake-up call for thirty minutes before pickup. I skip the continental swill and load myself into the bus at the last possible second.

While admittedly jaded from the several hundred flights I do every year, breakfast in the air still thrills me. Matt Goulding’s paean to airline food describes it best: at 6 am, I also “shake with anticipation at the smell from the galley.” A plate of rubbery Spanish tortilla, crispy hash browns, and salsa keeps me going. The distinctly un-flaky, preservative-infused croissant smeared with butter and jam puts a smile on my face and revives my ability to speak. I might even be able to have a conversation with my colleague as I smear another breakfast roll with dill-infused cream cheese (shelf life: one year) and top it with smoked salmon.

By this point, the sun is usually starting to rise, and the view is spectacular. It is time for coffee, contemplation, and contentment at skipping hotel breakfast.

Airline coffee has a shaky reputation, which is deserved. The canisters are rarely cleaned, and the water from the on-board tanks is, to put it charitably, “potable.” It won’t make you sick, but that’s about it. However, there is a secret brewing method that involves cleaning the canister, feeding the pot with bottled water, and positioning the grounds in a particular way. Give it five minutes, and you have something that looks and tastes like coffee.

My indecipherable welcome aboard address changes to a clear and ebullient arrival speech that undoubtedly annoys some of my sleepy passengers. After my plastic tray of industrial goodness, I might just be able to last until Rome this afternoon. An apertivo at Freni e Frizioni is calling me, if I can drag my crew away from the grotty bar next to our hotel. And pickup tomorrow is, mercifully, at 9 am.

The author is writing under a pseudonym.

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