Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The secrets of airline food

Have you ever had airplane food?

Yeah, I know; it's not so easy to find any more. On domestic flights, there's only one airline that still serves free meals in Coach (Continental). Everyone else peddles those snack boxes that cost as much as $7.00, or the occasional "fresh food" selection like salad or wraps that command even higher prices.

Moreover, when you do get a meal, it's questionable whether you want it. Foreign airlines are typically noted for their excellent cuisine, but with a few exceptions, American carriers tend to lag behind the pack. (Zagat recently published a rating of airline food, which you can get here.) And who knows how many calories are in that meal, anyway? Virtually no one, and DietDetective.com says it's probably more than you imagine.

But there's a secret: special meals.

Virtually every airline that offers meals, domestically and internationally, has a "special" menu that caters to people who have dietary restrictions. On the list, you'll typically find selections that conform to Kosher, Hindu, and Halal (Muslim) requirements, vegan and vegetarian
options, meals that are gluten-free, and possibly even a seafood choice.

And here's the thing: you can't just throw these together, because they must conform to their claimed standards or it could mean a health issue or a lawsuit. That means that no matter how much an airline cuts the standards for its basic entrees, these special meals will be well prepared.

So, next time that you fly, take a moment to look through the choices. It might mean the difference between burned pizza and a meal worth eating.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Spare lithium batteries? Not in your checked luggage.

Effective January 1, 2008, spare lithium ion batteries in checked baggage are banned on airline flights by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Spare lithium ion batteries can be brought onboard an aircraft in carry-on baggage, so long as:
  • each battery has no more than 8 grams of lithium content or;
  • in the case of extended-life batteries like those NCharge laptop batteries from Valence, no more than 25 total grams of lithium are carried at any one time.
Other types of batteries, including alkaline and nickel-cadmium batteries, are not affected by this ban.

The reason for the ban: lithium ion batteries are extremely flammable. If one catches fire in the cabin, people will notice. In the cargo hold, it's much harder to keep an eye on them. Makes sense, and it's not likely to affect most people anyway, so don't let it bother you.