It wanted to be airline food

Weekend Herb BloggingAt 2 p.m. on Friday, I logged on to United Airlines’ web site and started the Easycheck-in Online process. My bags were packed, I was ready to go. No taxi waiting outside my door—I’d drive under my own power, thank you—but still, I was all fired up for a trip back East to see most of my Dad’s side of the family in one place for the first time in years.

Plus, I was psyched to see my parents. Mom came out to visit back in April, but I haven’t seen Dad since Christmas, which is really too long ago.

On Friday morning, I packed myself a little bag of my version of airline food. I harvested every ripe and ready grape tomato, broke out the rest of Grape tomatoes, ready to gomy stash of fresh mozzarella, clipped some basil, and mixed up a little caprese salad perfectly bite-sized and ready for on-the-go eating. I had plans, folks. I had imagined myself taking a picture of my salad on the tray of my airline seat, laughing shyly as my seatmate noticed my geekiness, enjoying the alternative to that nasty bag of snack mix United seems so determined to hand out.

So, as I said, I logged on and started the process, only to find that my flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh, where I was to meet my parents for the drive to West Virginia, had been cancelled. I called United, and the customer service agent told me in broken English to go to the airport, where they would re-route me.

“But your web site shows there aren’t any other flights,” I said.

The response remained: go to the airport. They’ll take care of you there.

I must applaud the customer service agent at the check-in desk, who screwed up his face as he typed my information into the computer. I explained the situation: “Family reunion…parents picking me up in the morning…pre-paid hotel room tonight in Pittsburgh…it’s a three-hour drive…”

He got on the phone with every other airline (and trust me, there aren’t many) going out of Cedar Rapids. He typed in combination after combination into his computer.

“It’s a 70th birthday party,” I said, hoping that might help speed along the cure to the common cancellation.

“You’re not turning 70, are you?” asked one of the baggage handlers.

“No, no,” I said. “I’m turning 69. I have an incredible plastic surgeon.”

It was my last moment of levity for the day.

I won’t bore you with the further details of airline lack-of-accommodation. I won’t complain loudly about the fact that I bought my ticket on March 21. I won’t whine about the fact that United seems to be able to barrage me with Mileage Plus emails, with an email on June 21 updating me on a change to my itinerary for this trip, with an exhortation Thursday night to check in online sometime during the 24 hours leading up to my trip, but that they are unable to email me when they decide to, say, take a flight off the list for the day. Suffice it to say that, refund in hand, I managed to get out of the airport doors before bursting into tears.

By the time I got home, I was not only calmer, but hungry. A light drizzle fell as I dragged my suitcase into the house, and I knew, no matter what, that I wasn’t going anywhere for the evening. I had Netflix DVDs, some good Spanish wine, and my bag of snacks intended for onboard consumption.

It occurred to me that the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil had been marinating in really good balsamic and olive oil all day, and that they would be fabulous tossed with the whole wheat pasta I had conveniently stashed in the cupboard. I had a very small zucchini from the garden resting in the produce drawer, as well as about 1/6 of a Vidalia onion that needed to be used up and somehow had escaped my pre-trip refrigerator clean-out.

I boiled water and cooked the pasta, snipped some extra basil to chiffonade and sprinkle on the zucchini-onion combo, sautéed up the zucchini and onions together, and then tossed the pasta and insalata caprese together. I let the pasta toss stand while I poured some wine, and dinner was served. It wasn’t family, but it was from our garden, and therefore comforting, nonetheless.

This is not your father's airplane foodI Wanted To Be Airline Food Caprese Pasta
(Serves 1)

Approximately 1 1/2 c. hot cooked whole wheat pasta
2 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced
10-12 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
6-8 large basil leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces or rolled together and then sliced into ribbons
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. really good balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Mix the mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper together. Let stand in refrigerator for up to eight hours, but be sure to let it come to room temperature before tossing it with the pasta. If you start this in the afternoon, you can let the mixture sit out for up to two hours at room temperature, assuming it’s not hot in your kitchen.

When the pasta is cooked, toss it (it should be very hot) with the tomato-basil-mozzarella mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately with a good Spanish or Italian red.

This post is part of Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Paz of The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz. Please check out the round-up this week for all the great recipes.

And reconfirm your flights, people. Again and again and again.


11 Responses to “It wanted to be airline food”

  1. 1 Trey July 23, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Amazing post as I am in the middle of reading a book called “The Big Moo”, by Seth Godin. The whole premise is to “Stop trying to be perfect and start being remarkable”. It’s basically a business book about how companies like United Airlines will be extinct if they don’t start offering “Remarkable Service” to their customers. I feel this has a direct bearing on my small “mom and pop” business. The chains and box stores often fall into the “United Airlines” category of poor customer service and I find an opportunity to really differentiate our garden center by providing exceptional customer service, hence the timeliness of your post. It reinforces my belief that poor customer service, even if you have a great product, (jet airplane), is a business killer.

    Hope you have/had a great trip.

  2. 2 steven July 23, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    What a horrible story, I suggest you go over to The Consumerist and tell your story to a wider audience and expose United to the shame and invective they so richly deserve. It’s nice you could unwind with some wine and pasta though..I’d still be ranting.

  3. 3 Lizzie July 23, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    I’m so sorry about that, it must have been a huge disappointment. I hope you get to see your parents soon. At least you got a good meal idea out of it, I suppose.

  4. 4 inadvertentgardener July 23, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    Trey, that sounds like a really interesting book. I think you’re right. I’ll pay more for good customer service any day, whether it’s in the gardening arena or the airline arena. Because United couldn’t be bothered to communicate with me properly, I had no trip, but I did get the aforementioned refund and a $100 voucher toward a future flight, after I called again when I got home and complained further. Thanks for the memories, United.

    Steven, to some extent, I am still ranting…you can tell from my response to everyone’s comments! But I decided it would be best to turn the weekend into something positive — time to myself, time with the garden, and time with friends here in town who leave on Tuesday — it isn’t the same as seeing the family, but it has still been a good weekend nonetheless.

    Lizzie, it was a huge disappointment, you’re right. But I’ve got a trip on the books (on United…eek…) for September, so I’ll see my parents then. That’s really not that far off, and hopefully I have tons of cucumbers and zucchinis to eat between now and then.

  5. 5 Paz July 23, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    Sorry you had such a disappointing outcome with the airlines, but I’m glad you were able to end the day with nice, healthy, comforting meal with products from your garden. That’s the best!


  6. 6 inadvertentgardener July 23, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Paz, you’re right — it definitely took some of the sting out of the disappointment. And I have gotten to spend some serious quality time out in the garden today and yesterday, which has been fun.

  7. 7 gattina July 24, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    oh terrible! sorry to hear what happened! I still want to say, you wrote a wonderful post… that baggage handler cracked me, your little bag of airline food made me drooled madly… just wish the story wouldn’t have come from a real experience!

  8. 8 kalyn July 24, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Sorry to hear about your airline misadventure. I’ve had a few of those myself, and it’s very upsetting when you’ve done everything correctly and they don’t make it work for you. The pasta dish sounds good though.

  9. 9 inadvertentgardener July 24, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    Gattina, thank you for the sweet comment! I wish it had been fiction, too, but truth is often stranger and all that jazz…

    Kalyn, it was definitely good — I was pleased with it. Thanks for the sympathy, and I hope you have smooth travels all the way to BlogHer and back!

  1. 1 The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on July 24, 2006 at 5:59 am
  2. 2 The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz » Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB) #42 roundup - Part II Trackback on April 30, 2007 at 5:09 pm

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