The Mile-High Dining Club

Packing for a trip often involves a checklist of necessities. For mine and Mama's July 13 flight from New Orleans to Portland, Ore.—with 30 minutes to change planes hours later in San Jose, Calif.—the list included food. There would be no time for a quick trip to an over-priced, highly salted, fast-food joint.

Southwest Airlines is known for cheap fares; off-beat, entertaining, pleasant cabin attendants; and no meals. Last year we made do on our two trips with the peanut butter Nabs we took with us and the dry-roasted peanuts handed out soon after taking off from Jackson, then Houston, then Phoenix. That proved to be too much peanut for our tastes.

Should we take our rather large aluminum-foil market-to-home insulated bag and fill it with Zip-Loc bags of egg salad, green salad and ranch dressing? Logistics shot that one down pretty quickly—for fun, we'd decided to fly out of New Orleans instead of Jackson, so we'd have had to pack that at least 24 hours before take off, not what the insulated bag was meant for, and we didn't want to leave a cooler in the car, even emptied and opened. (We discovered on our return to New Orleans that our La Quinta Inn Airport had refrigerators and microwaves in some rooms—day late, dollar short.)

Then I remembered Sweet Sue Premium Chicken Breast, in pouches sitting unrefrigerated on the grocer's shelf. The pouch says "Taste the difference." That's what we were after—taste and difference. One seven-ounce packet went into the grocery cart, followed quickly by a can of Del Monte Quality Sliced Peaches with a pull-top lid for Mama; for me a can of Del Monte Quality Sliced Pears, Lite Syrup, with its own pull-top lid; a can of Pringles—hey, we're not perfect; we like salty stuff—a box of eight individually wrapped Hostess Cup Cakes; and some flaky, fresh croissants.

When it came time to eat, more than an hour out of Los Angeles—we didn't even realize we were landing there until the pilot told us as we took off over Lake Pontchartrain—we ordered soft drinks from the cabin attendant. I retrieved the carry-on from beneath the seat in front of Mama.

Turned out the change in air pressure had not adversely impacted the Sweet Sue—it opened like a dream and stood very well on the tray table. What could we put some chicken on for Mama? We'd not thought to bring any paper plates. Creative problem-solver that I am, I forked chunks of chicken onto the plastic that had moments before contained plastic cutlery, pilfered from a lunch at the Ameristar Stroll Food counter. Only I would have to be extremely careful with the juice (What else would you call it?) the chicken was swimming in, down deep in the packet.

The cans of fruit opened easily, too. Once I removed the plastic cap from the Pringles, however, I could see the inner seal straining around its perimeter. I tugged at the tab, releasing a fast-moving pop of air, straight up onto my right cheek. Mama checked—no noticeable change in my face. By the time we'd eaten, the stinging was gone.

Hungry, we went at it, marveling at how good the chicken tasted with a Pringle or two. I apologized for not checking my list twice and forgetting the croissants. Since the fruit was so juicy, we managed to eat most of our picnic without the soft drinks since they had not yet arrived.

My Coke and Mama's Sprite arrived in time for dessert, a Hostess cup cake each. Looking carefully at the packages, I wondered if their swollen appearance meant they would be smashed flat once the air rushed out? No fear, they were splendid in their chocolate and cream-filled-ness.

Pleased as punch with our sky-high picnic lunch, Mama and I settled—she to looking out the window, me to dreaming of well-cooked meals prepared by my chef sons. Hmmm ... Could we pack doggie bags for the flight home?


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