Airline lounge food

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out my Bossy Girl persona. On the bus last week I told a guy who repeatedly sneezed into his hand that he needed to get a mask and some tissues and use them.

That encounter with Mr Sneezy got me thinking about airport lounges where Bossy Girl has form. Specifically the etiquette of their food service and the many occasions I’ve asked men—and it is almost invariably men—to use tongs and not put their hands into the biscuit jar or the salad bowl.

Until coronavirus pretty much put an end to overseas and interstate travel I flew quite a lot—for work and for family reasons. Because I’m scared of flying I decided to try anything that might lessen my anxiety. Hence a Qantas Club membership. And yes, sitting in the lounge with a cup of tea or a glass of champagne does—did—help.

Emirates lounge, Dubai

Lounges are small—and sometimes not so small—oases away from the noise and bustle of busy airports. We don’t brandish our boarding passes hoping for haute cuisine. Just an OK coffee, a plate of something tasty and not too unhealthy, maybe some fresh fruit or a glass of wine. I think of it as stocking up before the onslaught of in-flight meals—some species of hot goo, mystery desserts, cheese and crackers, all to be negotiated with plastic cutlery and insufficient space.

Curiously, bizarrely, of all the things I could be missing because of changes brought about by the pandemic, my thoughts keep drifting to airline lounges. What’s that about? A longing for their DIY toasties and bite-sized squares of cake? A desire to fork slices of watermelon onto a saucer and peer into vats of soup? No, of course not. My nostalgia for airport lounge catering is about a deeper sense of loss. About an identity shift to a grounded self.

If you plan on taking a trip somewhere in the distant-possibly-never future, chances are the airport lounge will be a very different experience. No more pouring yourself juice from a communal jug. No more shared utensils. No more self-serve buffets. What will airline lounge food look like in a Covid-19 or (hopefully) post Covid-19 world? I’m seeing table service, boxed meals, packaged titbits and a lot of cling film.

Food offered in lounges serving overseas flights will still have to accommodate passengers whose body clocks are in different time zones. That means breakfast cereal at 7:00 pm, a selection of ‘any-time’ snacks, and again, everything dished up in individual, hermetically sealed portions.

Emirates lounge, Dubai

Here are my airport lounge culinary highlights: A freshly cooked, non-meat char kway teow in Singapore. Fragrant, almond stuffed dates from the Emirates lounge in Dubai. Barista-made flat whites in many a Qantas domestic lounge.

The lowlights: something ultra sweet with a sausage in it and tea made with tepid water in a lounge operated by an American carrier.

For a long time airline lounges with white napkins and curated wine lists let us hold on to the idea that there was still something glamorous and golden age about air travel. Even while you’re sitting there surrounded by crumbs and unidentified squashed things on the carpet, watching an old episode of Flight of the Conchords on your iPad.