A week or so before leaving on January 31 for a three-week abroad trip to Italy and Israel, I heard about Santa Monica-based SkyMeals on the radio.  I contacted them for more information through their Website at www.skymeals.com.  I was impressed by what I learned and decided to give them a try.

On their Website I saw the menu items along with photos of several of the available dishes. Currently, the personalized service is available only to travelers leaving from LAX and Burbank (they are sure to expand to other areas), with meals either delivered to the home or office before leaving for the airport, picked up at their facility near LAX or handed off at a mutually convenient stop on the way, or even handed off to the client curbside at the airport. In my case, I opted for the curbside handoff, and, since I arrived earlier than planned to the airport and went inside to get started, the SkyMeals representative called my cell phone and actually came inside the terminal to hand off my two coolers with the delectables inside.  What terrific service!

Their premise (and promise) is to provide gourmet meals and snacks (even for kids) that can be kept cool yet do not need to be refrigerated and that do not require heating. Save money flying coach, but eat BETTER than most first-class passengers (who would envy your SkyMeals).  Sure, it isn’t cheap, but the pleasure derived from eating so well on the flight more than makes up for the cost, which is LESS than what comparable meals would cost at an upscale eatery. Portions are generous and the quality is first rate.  Think about it – How would YOU feel with such a pleasurable diversion on an otherwise ordinary flight?  You can take your time to enjoy a snack or a feast, whenever you want during your flight, not dependent upon flight attendants or airline catering services.

I felt so well cared for because of my SkyMeals.  When finished with a SkyMeal, the cooler bag in which it is packed can be folded up and saved for later re-use.

The insulated SkyMeals cooler bags are packed with care (and with sealed non-ice frozen soft packs to keep the contents fresh and cold), with each inside container clearly marked as needed.  The food is beautifully presented as if served in the finest restaurant, only this time, service is at 40,000 feet and at your own pace!  Stay as long as you like.  Dine in style with everything thoughtfully included and no detail overlooked, from top-quality, thick paper napkins and plastic utensils to little salt and pepper shakers and wetnap-type cleanup products, even unexpected treats of high-end chocolates (both milk and dark) and a bag of Italian cookies.

Since I had a very long way to go, and in two installments – LA to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Rome – I decided to try two meals, one for each leg of the trip. In this way, I could sample a few of their offerings and offer a more complete report!  I was in for a treat.

My poor surrounding seatmates endured their own “available food for purchase” during the Delta flight to Atlanta, while I dined in style. When offered the menu for those “available for purchase” foods, I respectfully declined, announcing that I had brought my own SkyMeals!

The journey started with a 9 am flight, so I chose their $25.50 Sky Brunch, with Fresh Orange Juice, Fresh Fruit Medley, Imported Sliced Smoked Salmon, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Sweet Butter, Roma Tomato, Romaine Lettuce, White Onion, Caper and Olive Tapenade, Sesame and Onion Bagels, Bread Flats and Blueberry Tea Loaf.  There was easily enough food for two and it was all absolutely delicious!  The orange juice tasted sweet and fresh. The bagels were fresh and better than most I have had, and there was an abundance of salmon, more than enough for the four halves of bagel. Even the lettuce was buttery soft, not the stiff leaves one usually finds in restaurants and delis.  Alternate, perfect slices of onion and tomato were laid out just so. The container of tapenade was the perfect complement to the flat breads and the slices of Blueberry Tea Loaf were soft and delicious. Of course, I arrived well satisfied in Atlanta and I passed along several SkyMeals brochures to interested passengers (I was prepared for this!).  I simply could not (and did not try to) finish the Sky Brunch.

The next flight, the international leg, was a couple of hours later and I was still stuffed from the first feast, so I waited a few hours into that Delta flight before digging in.  It was interesting to me that the airlines still include meals for international fliers in coach/economy class.  My flight provided one sheet-menus, which, though tempting on paper, I declined, knowing I had my own gourmet meal awaiting me and at my own convenience.

My choice for the “main” SkyMeals meal on the nearly 10-hour flight to Rome started with an appetizer, their $12 Grilled Portobello Mushroom with

Wilted Southern Greens and a Drizzle of Truffle Oil; Choice of Gorgonzola or Vegetable Polenta (I opted for the Vegetable Polenta), Fresh Orange Sections and Roasted Pine Nut Garni.  This was a large Portobello and it was perfect.  The Polenta was delicious, as well.

A few more hours into the trans-Atlantic flight I dipped into the cooler bag once again for my entree choice, the $29 Flash Seared Ahi Tuna, of Center Cut Seared Tuna, Wasabi Aioli, Sesame Ginger Dressing, Jicama, Orange and Cilantro Salad, Cucumber, Zucchini, and Avocado.  Oh, my, what a treat was this!  The seared tuna was of the highest melt-in-your-mouth quality, with thick cut slices and lots of them, perfectly presented atop the greens.  The salad was crisp and flavorful.  No complaints here.

Not knowing ahead of time just how much food I would get when it was being ordered, I also chose a dessert to complete my meal, the $6 Flourless Chocolate Cake.  Topped with a sprig of mint and surrounded by fresh and perfect raspberries, this truly was just the right end to my feast-across-the-world.  Moist and full of chocolaty flavor, I savored each bite of the cake, though I saved more than half of it.  I wanted to share this treat with my daughter, Marnie, when we met at the airport in Rome.  She loved it and was delighted with this unexpected snack, along with some of the cookies and chocolates.

Now I am spoiled and can’t wait for another opportunity to travel with SkyMeals, looking forward to trying many of the other menu items while traveling.  So often my coast-to-coast flights, especially from west to east, are an all-day project.  By the time I get into my hotel at the end of a travel day such as this, what I want least of all is to go out for dinner, and room service is rarely worth the effort.  I would rather have a satisfying SkyMeal en route and a light snack in a nearby casual eatery for the evening meal.

My only regret is that SkyMeals is available only on outbound flights from the LA area.  What a letdown when returning home and suffering with airport food or, worse, mediocre airline food that is no longer free on domestic flights.  With the new airline policy of fee-for-food (if there is any food at all), it is not uncommon for a selection to be sold out by the time the chuck wagon makes its way to your seat. SkyMeals is such a better idea, and so well worth the price, especially on longer flights.

I also think SkyMeals should be considered as a pre-arranged back-at-home first night’s meal for yourself or for your welcoming family, as a special treat at home on other non-occasions, for special meals at the office or for client lunches, and even as a worthy choice for a gourmet (romantic?) picnic in the great outdoors (or at a park).   SkyMeals is also just the right thing for those attending an evening at the Hollywood Bowl where such picnicking is common.

So, on your next trip from LAX or Burbank, fly economy and treat yourself by eating better than first class with excellent cuisine from your own take-along SkyMeals. You’ll be glad you did!  More information is at www.skymeals.com or by phone at 1-866-SKYMEALS (759-6325).

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