Airplane food has been a punchline for so long that it's almost shocking to remember that it used to be a striking symbol of class. It was the meal with the flavor of a remade world, a globe suddenly shrunken, an awe-inspiring update of the glorious days of ocean liners and trans-continental railroad dining cars, all big wines and beefsteaks, but, magically, thousands of feet in the air.
It's a history that seems to ring hollow, though, when you're cramped in coach, eating your packet of sorry peanuts and considering whether it's worth the eight bucks for a cardboardy chicken wrap. But those in the know remember a different time, like Patrick Smith, author of "Ask the Pilot," who recalls: "My very first airplane flight was in coach, an hour-long domestic flight in 1974. They served hot sandwiches and a cheesecake dessert," a far cry from pretzel dust and two more cookies you wish you could ask for. So what happened?