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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are just days away from Christmas and then New Years. For one reason or another, it's likely either you or someone you know is going to be in the air. Stuck in a pressurized cabin, tens of thousands of feet above ground with nothing good to eat.

Amidst the holiday season, we wanted to know if Sporkful.com's Dan Pashman could shed any light on why airplane food is so completely not delicious. So we called him up. Hey, Dan.

DAN PASHMAN: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, I remember a time - I mean granted I may have been really little and the novelty of all this was just overwhelming. But I remember being kind of excited to unwrap my little tinfoil container of pasta with meat sauce on the plane. But now - now, now Dan, it's just bad. The food is horrific.

PASHMAN: Yeah, it's not great, especially if you're flying in coach. Although I have to say, Rachel, in defense of the airlines, I think people just need to cut them a little bit of slack.

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: I mean you, first of all, for safety reason, they can't cook. You can't have a grill and a Frialator on the back of an airplane. So the food has to be made in advance, then chilled, then reheated. So that's already...

MARTIN: That's not good.

PASHMAN: That's already working against you. You got to deal with flight delays, which are obviously going to do more damage to some foods than others. Plus, they're up against science. The lack of humidity in a cabin dries out your nose, so you don't smell as well.

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: And the air pressure in a cabin at altitude has been shown to reduce your taste perception by 30 percent. And even the sound of the engine, the loud noise of the engine reduces your ability to perceive taste in the same way that, like, you know, when you're driving and you get lost and you turn down the radio - even though it doesn't help you see. Well, noise can be distracting and it distracts your taste buds.

MARTIN: OK. So my taste buds are distracted but that doesn't mean that as passengers we don't deserve delicious food, right? Sounds like you're blaming this on my taste buds.

PASHMAN: No, I'm not blaming.

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: No one is at fault here, Rachel. No, it's not your taste buds' fault and there are things that can be done to help your taste buds out. And, you know, I talked to Peter Wilander. He's the managing director of onboard services for Delta and he says they take this into account.

PETER WILANDER: In the development of specific menus, we usually instruct our design chefs to add more spices, for instance.

MARTIN: Aha.

PASHMAN: Yes.

MARTIN: So, I'm getting on a flight - tomorrow, in fact, all the way across the country. It's going to be a long flight. What can I do to go in armed so that I can have a good culinary experience?

PASHMAN: Well, I'll give you a few tips. First, if you're given the choice, go for saucy pasta dishes over big cuts of meat. They tend to hold up better to the chilling and reheating process. Also, when the flight attendants are coming through, don't be shy about asking politely for, let's say, the whole can of soda or extra pretzels or peanuts. Those extra snacks can really be crucial. Crush up the pretzels or peanuts and you can sprinkle them over your entree to add flavor and, even more importantly, texture.

That extra texture is especially helpful because, remember that study I mentioned about how engine noise reduces taste perception?

MARTIN: Uh-huh.

PASHMAN: Well, the same study said that engine noise increases crunch perception.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: No, it didn't.

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: Yes. You know, when you're on a plane do you ever, like, talk to yourself? Or when you're eating crunchy foods, the way it sort of like reverberates in your head?

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: So, you know, if you love crunch, just bring the crunchiest food you can find on a plane and just go to town.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK. Any advice about drinking on the plane? I'm also bringing my toddler on this journey.

PASHMAN: I was going to say, I know you're flying with your kid. And so, my first advice about drinking is: Do it.

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: But...

MARTIN: It's a contained space. How much trouble can he get into?

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: Famous last words. Yeah, tell that to the judge. Wine is the same deal as far as taste goes, as the food is. So that's also, so that the sommeliers who consult to these airlines also take that into account; the issues of cabin pressure when they're picking wines to get maximum taste experience and pleasure.

MARTIN: Nice tips. Very helpful tips, Dan Pashman of the Sporkful food podcast, Dan, thanks so much.

PASHMAN: Thanks, Rachel. Happy holidays, good luck on that flight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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