Is That a Needle in My Turkey Sandwich?

I come off a bit too flip in CNN.com’s coverage of the needles in Delta food incident.

Frequent flier Gary Leff, who rakes in more than 100,000 miles each year, said he’s taking a “wait and see attitude” but isn’t planning to change the way he thinks about airline food.

“I mean, this isn’t going to be the first thing ever found in airline food and certainly not the first thing found in restaurant food,” he said.

Leff is a frequent domestic flier for work and redeems his miles for international vacations, sharing his cheap travel expertise on his blog, View from the Wing.

He expects others to be bothered by this incident “for about 15 minutes,” Leff said. He referenced a number of occasions when unwanted ingredients or objects have been discovered in foods and medicines over the past few decades — incidents no one seems to worry about or even remember, he said.

“I think most people are just so happy to be served food in the sky that they’ll forget it pretty quickly,” he said.

I do think that’s basically right, though — that this isn’t a huge deal.

  • It does highlight potential vulnerabilities in airline catering that ought to be addressed. There are huge issues with widespread access to ramp activities that get the lightest control, while security screening resources are poured into dealing with folks with no shoes, executing the War on Water, and having employees dressed in blue look at us naked. The story should be part of making us re-prioritize.

  • Terrorists would find it even easier to poison food that gets sent out from warehouses on delivery trucks to area restaurants, contaminating an entire city’s food supply. We shouldn’t overreact to a single incident on a plane.

  • Food on a plane is really no different from food in a restaurant. This is simply prepared food intended to be re-heated and served later, in a particularly constrained environment. I’ve found hair, hard plastic, and other items in my food in restaurants. And there I’m distracted by conversation, on planes and without sitting across from friends I’m more likely to pay attention to what goes in my mouth.

  • But we won’t start to worry too much about airline food, we won’t start booking away from Delta, there’s no reasonable expectation of brand damage here to Delta.

This is an issue for Gate Gourmet. We should also pay more attention to what goes on away from the security checkpoint, redeploying resources. But we also shouldn’t overreact to a single incident.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I don’t know what’s worse, finding needles in a turkey sandwich or finding out that Delta serves turkey sandwiches in international business class.

  2. Gary,

    At the risk of speaking before I’ve looked into this story in any detail, the one article I read indicated that of the half dozen or so people affected one was a friend of the story’s lead subject and one was his son on another flight who was already talking lawsuit. That was enough to ping my “balloon boy” media-driven hoax meter. I’m not saying this isn’t on the up and up, but should something like that emerge I’d not be at all surprised.

  3. Here are my thoughts.
    1, It is a really unfortunate situation.
    2, Airline is expected to be responsible for the food they server, but you can’t really blame them too much for issue like this.
    3, It is wired that the object is a piece of needle, and it is really wired that multiple needles were fond at the same time.
    4, Always be careful about whatever coming in and out your own mouth, seriously.
    5, Wish more attention will be put on the safety and quality of airline food, but not going crazy like only serving nuts and chips that are super loose.

  4. @Sailor – perhaps the customers in question redeemed fewer than 300,000 miles for their award ticket, so weren’t entitled to the standard catering? (“Redeem a High Level business class award and no needles is an added benefit. THAT’S SkyPriority!”)

  5. @Sailor – To be fair, the (hot) turkey sandwich was part of the lighter second meal served just prior to arrival. The other pre-arrival option is typically a chilled salad topped with some sort of protein. For the main meal service, Delta offers five (non-sandwich) courses in BusinessElite.

  6. KLM food sucks. No sandwich or needles ? I fly a lot on KLM and have seen their quality go down the tubes fast the accounting department has taken over management. They used to have great sandwiches on the run to and from Venice made by a good vendor and then they switched to Gate Gourmet who offer the worst food at the cheapest prices. They use street people to make them I guess. I hope you don’t get aids. Now they serve nothing on the same run yet feed the crew. I guess I am lucky I didn’t get a sandwich this time.

  7. I normally wouldn’t comment on posts but @Steve’s comments were less than intelligent and even less funny. No problem with the mention that KLM food sucks but the not-too-funny joke about getting AIDS from street people shows
    1) a lack of knowledge about how AIDS is transmitted
    2) an insensitivity to “street people” and/or
    3) a very very poor sense of humor.

    Again, apologies for this non travel related post but the initial post was too off bass to ignore.

  8. I apologize for my insensitivity to street people. The folks who ate the sandwiches were HIV tested. I do take issue with the fact that you think this is not travel related. I fly on about a hundred flights a year and find food hygiene a very important issue. If the passengers or flight crew become ill during the flight then this becomes a very big problem. KLM and Delta in their quest to lower costs have cut corners and forced their suppliers to do so as well. In order to supply airlines european factories have to have IFS BRC certification. This means metal detectors on every line. Food has to come in sealed containers to prevent down line contamination from loaders and flight attendants who may have just cleaned the toilets which they do about every 20 minutes or so. If the airlines are cutting costs on food what about maintenance? On my last two trips to South Africa in KLM business class the TV was duck taped and the seats didn’t work. Does this mean they may be cutting back on engine maintenance as well? Safety is the most important travel related issue I can think of.

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