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Flexible dining - Requesting a review from a recent rider

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MARC Rider

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For a bit of contrast, I recently came across a letter from May 1975 from an elderly relative to my parents describing her recent trip on Delta from Florida to Maine, which included a change of planes in Boston. Not sure whether she was in coach or first class:

"About 11:00 I guess they served the most delicious filet mignon, scrambled eggs, hot muffin with jam, including coffee or whatever one wanted - even champagne. Then after we left Boston they came around with a turkey sandwich made in a sesame roll, pickle, more drinks, etc., but I could not eat any more."
They must have been flying first class because, believe me, I was a frequent flyer in the 1970s, and I was never served anything like that. Airline food was considered a joke -- the usual joke was "the food is lousy -- and such small portions!"

Little did I know what would happen to airline food in the 1980s, '90s, and then in the 21st century.
 

MARC Rider

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The food now being served on Amtrak will discourage ridership. On an overnight trip , you may get by with a "flexible" meal but try it on a two or three day trip and you'll get sick to your stomach. This has got to change. If no kitchen is now the rule give us back the old Cardinal food menu. It was reheated but it was OK. The stuff they are serving right now has hit a new low.
Well, maybe. People thought that eliminating airline meals would hurt ridership, but it didn't. The majority of Amtrak travelers, even on the long-distance trains, don't ride overnight, and can get by perfectly fine with this meal service. The number of riders who are making a 2 or 3 night journey are a miniscule fraction of the total Amtrak ridership, and are probably a bit of a captive audience (with the exception of an even more minuscule subset who are channeling Lucius Beebee, and would thus refuse to travel Amtrak because they can't get the traditional railroad dining experience.) The taxpayers don't subsidize Amtrak so passengers can have the traditional railroad dining experience, they subsidize it because it's a useful and important transportation service.
 

MARC Rider

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Biggest complaint is the sleeper prices have not come down,and in many cases have risen. But if people are willing to pay for their substandard service nothing will change. I have seen sleeper prices $1000 and up for many routes. No way in hell would I pay those prices and if you do you are wasting your money.
Let's say you can't fly for medical reasons. If you have to get across the country, you alternative are a Greyhound bus that involves numerous stops and bus changes, Amtrak, which has one transfer in Chicago, or driving yourself. Sure, Greyhound is probably cheap, but Amtrak coach is also no so expensive. But either way, the food is worse than flex dining. If you can drive, it will take more than 3 1/2 days, as you have to stop for meals and stop at night to sleep. (OK, if you're the kind of person who's into driving the "Cannonball Run," maybe you can can do the drive faster than Amtrak.) I could easily imagine that a one-way car rental, the cost of motels, the cost of food, and the cost of gas for a coast-to-coast trip could start pushing $1,000. Of course, if you can't fly AND you can't drive, you're a captive audience. It's either multiple bus changes or an Amtrak ride or stay home.
 

neroden

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Let's say you can't fly for medical reasons. If you have to get across the country, you alternative are a Greyhound bus that involves numerous stops and bus changes, Amtrak, which has one transfer in Chicago, or driving yourself. Sure, Greyhound is probably cheap, but Amtrak coach is also no so expensive. But either way, the food is worse than flex dining. If you can drive, it will take more than 3 1/2 days, as you have to stop for meals and stop at night to sleep. (OK, if you're the kind of person who's into driving the "Cannonball Run," maybe you can can do the drive faster than Amtrak.) I could easily imagine that a one-way car rental, the cost of motels, the cost of food, and the cost of gas for a coast-to-coast trip could start pushing $1,000. Of course, if you can't fly AND you can't drive, you're a captive audience. It's either multiple bus changes or an Amtrak ride or stay home.
In fact, the actual choice will be "don't travel at all".
 

Rasputin

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They must have been flying first class because, believe me, I was a frequent flyer in the 1970s, and I was never served anything like that. Airline food was considered a joke -- the usual joke was "the food is lousy -- and such small portions!"

Little did I know what would happen to airline food in the 1980s, '90s, and then in the 21st century.
In the 1970s and 1980s I rarely flew and almost always did long distance traveling by train. However based on my infrequent flights I don't recall that it was that dire in the early 1980s. I remember traveling by coach on Delta about 1984 and the meal was very good. I think my next flights were on People's Express and things went downhill from there. The 1984 Delta meal in coach was comparable to Amtrak traditional dining and far superior to Amtrak contemporary dining on the Lake Shore.
 

tricia

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In the 1970s and 1980s I rarely flew and almost always did long distance traveling by train. However based on my infrequent flights I don't recall that it was that dire in the early 1980s. I remember traveling by coach on Delta about 1984 and the meal was very good. I think my next flights were on People's Express and things went downhill from there. The 1984 Delta meal in coach was comparable to Amtrak traditional dining and far superior to Amtrak contemporary dining on the Lake Shore.
A blast of airline nicknames from the 1970s and 1980s:
People's Distress
US Scare--which IIRC started as a merger or expansion involving Agony Airlines (Allegheny, based in Pittsburgh)

Food wasn't the only or even primary factor that made this sort of joke common at the time. Train travel then was a lot more comfortable than flying, particularly coach.
 

MARC Rider

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The 1984 Delta meal in coach was comparable to Amtrak traditional dining and far superior to Amtrak contemporary dining on the Lake Shore.
The legacy airlines (i.e. United, Delta, Northwest, etc.) had domestic meal service in coach until the early 2000s. However, even in its heyday, it was never as good as Amtrak traditional dining, even the Antrak traditional dining after 2014 or so when things started going downhill. I had a nice meal in coach on British Airays in 1985, but that was an international flight. Coach meals were similar to contemporary flex, but maybe presented a little better, but nobody ever considered them a culinary experience, they were just useful to jeep from getting "hangry." Anyway, the whole point of traditioal dining wasn't necessarily the food, but that you got served sitting at a real table, not having a tray meal balanced over your knees on a folding tray table. You also got to look out the window while you eat, and maybe also get to meet some interesting dinner companions.

All domestic meal service in coach got hammered in the 1980s by PeopleExpress, Texas International, Continental (after Frank Lorenzo took it over), Southwest, etc. After a while, the legacy airlines had to follow suit or go out of business. 9/11 didn't help. The coronavirus pandemic isn't helping. This was a direct result of airline deregulation and the fact that most airline passengers now look for the lowest fares and don't really care about the level of service. I have now been conditioned to accept a 6 hour coast-to-coast flight with absolutely no meal service. I just have to remember to bring a Clif bar or buy carry-on at the airport.
 

MARC Rider

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A blast of airline nicknames from the 1970s and 1980s:
People's Distress
US Scare--which IIRC started as a merger or expansion involving Agony Airlines (Allegheny, based in Pittsburgh)

Food wasn't the only or even primary factor that made this sort of joke common at the time. Train travel then was a lot more comfortable than flying, particularly coach.
USAir was actually OK. They had nonstop BWI-SFO in the 1990s, which I flew a few times, and they were just as good as United. Full meal service, bu the way.

PeopleExpress had $19 fares BWI-NWK circa 1982-3, at the time they were cheaper than Amtrak coach. I took one once. A 45 minute flight, bascially a parabola, ascent for 20 minutes, the plane tilts down as we pass over Philly, and then a 20 minute descent into Newark. They let you off in the old Art Deco terminal from the 30s or 40s, I don't even know if the building is still standing. I also took them to Sarasota, FL a couple of times in the early 80s. No onboard service, but it was OK for the 2 hour flight, better than having to take a legacy airline to a major airport an hour or two away from where I was going. The bit about doing the credit card transactions after everybody was boarded was weird, though. What if somebody's credit card didn't clear or they had no cash? Were they going to give them a parachute, open the door and toss them out? (Of course, there was no internet back them, so the only way they could have people prepay would be to hire ticket agents at the airport, which apparently was not part of their business model.)
 

joelkfla

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The bit about doing the credit card transactions after everybody was boarded was weird, though. What if somebody's credit card didn't clear or they had no cash? Were they going to give them a parachute, open the door and toss them out? (Of course, there was no internet back them, so the only way they could have people prepay would be to hire ticket agents at the airport, which apparently was not part of their business model.)
How would they know if it didn't clear? Did they radio-phone for authorization? Or did they just take paper charge slips on signature & faith, and process them later on the ground?
 

jiml

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A blast of airline nicknames from the 1970s and 1980s:
People's Distress
US Scare--which IIRC started as a merger or expansion involving Agony Airlines (Allegheny, based in Pittsburgh)

Food wasn't the only or even primary factor that made this sort of joke common at the time. Train travel then was a lot more comfortable than flying, particularly coach.
You forgot a couple - America Worst (merged with US Air), Air Can't-ada (still around), Keeps Losing Money (KLM) and my favorite as an AA flyer: Airline Meals Eaten Regularly Induces Cramps and Nausea. I've avoided dozens that involve safety records or accidents.
 

Palmland

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I still fondly remember my 50% off student fare that put me in first class on an AA flight from National to Memphis. A steak dinner with all the trimmings and, being the good college student, a couple boubon and water courtesy of AA. It's enough to make you stay a student for a long time.

In later years I was practically commuting on Eastern from Jax to BWI. I had enough FF miles to always upgrade and received their great service that included unlimited wine, hot towels, and of course meals. So what if it was often late and the DC-9's belched smoke like an Alco. Even though the crew was trying hard, it was kind of bittersweet though as everyone knew the end was near.

Good service doesn't have to cost much. A lesson Amtrak hasn't learned.
 

Devil's Advocate

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The majority of Amtrak travelers, even on the long-distance trains, don't ride overnight, and can get by perfectly fine with this meal service.
I can get by without eating any Amchow at all, but that doesn't mean I'm eager to pay top dollar for the privilege of preparing and packing my own meals. If Amtrak shared the savings of stocking and serving such cheap food it might not bother me as much, but the current pricing makes their flexicon food service look like a joke.

The legacy airlines (i.e. United, Delta, Northwest, etc.) had domestic meal service in coach until the early 2000s.
This must have been limited to cross country travel because none of those airlines served domestic coach meals on my flights. Continental still served domestic coach meals until being purchased by United but that was it over here.
 
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Dakota 400

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I remember traveling by coach on Delta about 1984 and the meal was very good.
I remember very good meal service on Delta at least through 1986 in coach. Was served a very good steak dinner on one flight and really remember being surprised that one choice was steak. My return flight was on American and have no recollection of the meal; must not have been impressive or memorable.

Don't remember the exact year, but it was in the early 2000's, a December flight from Houston to Anchorage on Continental. A nice meal was served after we left Houston and an hour or so before arriving in Anchorage, a hot sandwich was served. When my flight attendant served me, I told her how surprised I was. I'll never forget her response. "We don't want our passengers to starve to death." My return flight was also on Continental.

However, on a Continental flight, again in the early 2000's, from Rome to New York, the lunch served was mostly inedible (and I am not a picky eater). A hot sandwich was served shortly before arrival at EWR. It was quite good; certainly better than lunch.
 

Willbridge

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Hmmm... it seems that almost every carrier has a sarcastic nickname. In addition to some above I recall Worst Coast Airlines (West Coast), the Peoples Airline (Air Canada in Cold War days), Untied (United).

I had two pretty good dinners on United while being shipped from Fort Lewis to Fort Ord in 1969. My seatmate couldn't eat his due to the rough winter flight so I ate his, too. My only recent flights have been on Lufthansa and the meals were small portions but excellent. On one trip there were some extra desserts and they offered me one. If Amtrak's MRE's were as good as Lufthansa's well-thought out meals it would cut way down on the complaints.
 

Palmland

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I well remember Agony (Allegheny) airlines. Things didn’t improve with USAir. Piedmont was so much better. Sadly they were devoured by USAir.
 

bratkinson

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My favorite airline always was and always will be 'the Ruptured Duck', aka, 'the Blue Goose', aka North Central Airlines. They covered 5 upper midwest states in all weather. They merged with Southern Airways to become Republic Airlines and it was downhill from there.

One time I flew NCA into Traverse City MI, that did NOT have a tower, but was controlled by ORD, in a blizzard about 11PM. There was at least a foot of snow on the runway and I knew from talking with the crew in earlier trips that the runway was the shortest possible for a DC-9. We had a flawless landing. Another time, landing in Madison WI to a surprise freezing rain, again in a DC-9, we slid sideways at a 45 degree angle when the pilot touched the brakes but he instinctively knew to 100% reverse thrust on the engines and the nose swung right around! Snow and ice were never a surprise. It was standard operating procedure.

Contrast that to pilots that fly, say, MIA-LAX day in and day out, then get bumped or bid on a MSP routing. How would you like to land with THAT pilot in what could be his first blizzard?
 

Bob Dylan

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My favorite nickname after Agony, is still "Tree Top Airlines" , the old TTA, Trans Texas Airlines, that ended up being part of Continental after all the Mergers!
 

Night Ranger

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Anyone else recall Ozark Airlines? The army almost flew me from Nashville to San Antonio but for some undisclosed reason sent me via Greyhound instead. It was a long, tedious ride but, from what I heard later from some of my fellow trainees, it was probably a blessing. They flew Ozark to Memphis, Tree Top Airlines to San Antonio. None of the accommodations were deluxe and the ride was bumpy the entire way.

Later, all of us flew in a lot worse aircraft under worse conditions but that trip was memorable to them because of Ozark and TTA.
 

me_little_me

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I well remember Agony (Allegheny) airlines. Things didn’t improve with USAir. Piedmont was so much better. Sadly they were devoured by USAir.
Wasn't one of those three known as the "Vomit Comet"?
My favorite nickname after Agony, is still "Tree Top Airlines" , the old TTA, Trans Texas Airlines, that ended up being part of Continental after all the Mergers!
Actually, TTA bought out Continental but kept the Continental name.

Methinks this thread has gone wild and the airline stuff belongs elsewhere.
 

MARC Rider

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Air New England! They were the puddle jumper that did the milk run up Maine from Boston Logan. I had an uneventful flight on a de Havilland Twin Otter from Boston to Auburn-Lewistown in 1973, but my girlfriend booked a flight from Newark the next year even though the Auburn-Lewiston airport was closed for runway construction. We spent the afternoon driving down to Portland to find out where she was, and eventually they put her on a flight to Augusta where we picked her up. She came up on a DC-3, and was looking a little green around the gills as she stumbled off the plane. Anyway, nobody took that airline for the in-flight service!
 

Dakota 400

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Anyone else recall Ozark Airlines?
Yes, I do remember the airline, but never flew on them.

Piedmont was so much better.
DAY was a hub for Piedmont; (much taxpayer's money was spent to accommodate Piedmont at DAY; not certain that the bonds issued to finance the accommodation has yet to be fully paid). Non-stop service for those of us who live in this area to many cities on comfortable planes with good service.

One Piedmont flight I took was a dinner flight to Boston. The entree was a bowl of Vegetable Soup. The soup was good, but the flight was bumpy and it was a challenge to keep the soup off me and on the spoon, then into my mouth. I thought that to be an odd dinner entree for a flight.
 

Palmland

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Night Ranger, I flew on Ozark, twice. Both of them were memorable. My first flight, courtesy of my grandmother, was about 50 miles on a DC-3 at age 9 or 10 from Clarksville, TN to Nashville. The second was about 15 years later flying from Nashville to St. Louis to catch the GM&O‘s Midnight Special to Chicago. As we made our approach the pilot said we might want to stick around to see a flight land that couldn’t get its landing gear down. I did, but was kind of anti climatic. It was a prop plane with high wings on the fuselage. It landed in a spray of foam and went a very short distance before stopping.
 
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bratkinson

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The talk about regional airlines reminded me of my two favorites: Trans Michigan and Trans Missouri.

On Trans Michigan, flying in to TVC from DTW, about 5 minutes before touching down the pilot came on and advised everyone if they were interested in getting a beagle puppy, talk to him after we've landed. Now THAT was a friendly airline!

Trans Missouri took me from Lake of the Ozarks MO to St Louis a couple of times while I was working on a project in a small town in Missouri. I had driven to Camdenton MO from Springfield MO and was going to fly home for a weekend from Lake of the Ozarks airport. When I arrived, the place was completely deserted. I parked my rental car and went inside and nobody was there, either! A little later, a 12 seater landed on the grass runway, and out came the pilot to the terminal. He made out my ticket, ran it through the credit card imprinting machine, took my luggage and told me to board and take any seat. He opened the nose of the aircraft to put my garment bag in as there wasn't space in the passenger cabin for anything more than a briefcase. He boarded, pulled up the steps, got in the pilot seat and off we went. A few weeks later, just before Christmas, I repeated the trip and was an expert at how things are done at Lake of the Ozarks airport. I always liked those small regional planes as I could sit directly behind the captain and watch all the dials and gauges with him. We were landing at Ft Leonard Wood Army base in MO as an intermediate stop and about a second after the wheels first touched the runway he gave it full throttle and pulled the stick all the way back! He got on the PA and annouced that one of the snowplows was still on the runway!

One of the things about flying around the USA on business in the late '70s and early '80s is the number of 'scares' I encountered, and a few laughs... One I especially remember was while waiting in line at DEN to take off, looking out my window I and everyone on my side of the plane watched a small private plane (Piper Cub size) do what must have been a 10 'big bounce' landing. I'm thinking he bounced it 6-10 feet in the air each time! It must have been the student pilots' first landing. Of course, the whole right side of the plane was in tears from laughing so hard while watching the show! Fortunately, he got it landed and we were airborne shortly thereafter.
 
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