It’s a common gripe among air travellers: airline food is bad and seems to get worse year after year. But has it really gone downhill in the past 50 years?
There’s a new tool to help answer that question.
Northwestern University Library has launched an online database that includes hundreds of menus from airlines around the world dating back to the 1950s.
Anyone with an Internet connection and sufficient curiosity can discover that the economy-class breakfast on a Canadian Pacific Airlines flight from Vancouver to San Francisco on May 26, 1967, included fruit compote, cornflakes and fresh cream, an omelette with grilled bacon and sausages, croissants and brioches.
“Afternoon tea” on a British Overseas Airways flight from Montreal to Chicago on Aug. 2, 1971, consisted of game pate in pastry crust, grilled salmon with parsley butter, buttered peas, new potatoes, fresh fruit salad, a cheese tray and coffee.
A red-tassled beverage menu on an Air Canada flight from Freeport, Bahamas, to Toronto in June 1968 offered passengers sherry, Scotch, champagne and other libations – as well as “Canadian, American and English cigarettes.”
“The menus hark back to the days when an in-flight glass of Johnnie Walker Black Label cost all of 50 cents and a beer half of that, if free alcoholic beverages were not an option,” the university said in a news release.
“The 380-plus menus not only document the history of airline cuisine, they conjure up a time when flying was a more elegant, more comfortable form of travel,” said Robert Sarmiento, head of Northwestern’s Transportation Library.
The collection began with a 1997 gift to the library from George Foster, a Northwestern alumnus, who had saved menus from his flights from the mid-1950s onward. It continues to grow with donations as people learn of its existence, and includes some items from cruise ships and railways, the university said.
The database can be viewed at http://digital.library.northwestern.edu/tranmenus.
To compare with the chow served in the skies today, visit http://airlinemeals.net, which posts photos provided by air travellers worldwide.