Branson ends up with custard on his face


“I know it looks like a baaji but it’s in custard Richard, custard.”

This is just one of the priceless lines in a complaint letter sent to Virgin Atlantic chairman Sir Richard Branson from a disgruntled passenger who was far from impressed with the culinary fare that was put in front of him on a Virgin flight from Mumbai to London.

The letter makes for hilarious reading, and is accompanied by photographic evidence to show the bearded one exactly what the dishes referred to in the letter actually looked like.

Along with the custard, which actually turned out to be “a sour gel with a clear oil on top”, the passenger was served mashed potato, which he/she describes in the following way: “The potato masher had obviously broken and so it was decided the next best thing would be to pass the potatoes through the digestive tract of a bird.”

UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which published the letter, took the trouble of calling Virgin’s director of corporate communications, Paul Charles, who confirmed that Branson had read the letter.

He then went on to say that while he was sorry the passenger had not enjoyed the food, it was “award-winning food, which is very popular on our Indian routes”.

And this is why I don’t work in PR – can you imagine saying that with a straight face after reading that letter?

I’ve had some pretty abysmal airline food in my time, but nothing that’s prompted me to write a letter of complaint, let alone one as good as the one from the Virgin passenger.

Has anyone else had airline food that was as bad as the food described in the letter sounds?  

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9 Responses to Branson ends up with custard on his face

  1. David Learmount 28 January, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    Hi Kerry – I thought I’d provide some in-house comment for a change.

    Actually I first read this letter via the Telegraph’s website – my daughter sent me a link to it a few days ago.

    I know it’s receiving universal praise as being amusing, but I think it’s boring, repetitive and distinctly unclever.

    It is written in the style of a university undergraduate who thinks a lot of himself. He is trying to be clever but is just indulging in low level literary slapstick with all the glee of somebody who thinks the height of hilarity is to push a custard pie into somebody else’s face.

    For that reason, rather than automatically believing that the food was actually bad – a claim that would be intrinsically credible under normal circumstances given the reputation of airline food in general – I end up wondering whether the writer was merely a person who has a problem with ethnic fare.

    We’ll never know, will we?

  2. Kerry Ezard 28 January, 2009 at 10:26 am #

    Hi David – thanks for your comments. Wow, you really put the phantom letter writer back in his box, didn’t you? Perhaps it did get a little repetitive, but I thought the custard line was a gem. There were quite a few spelling/grammar errors, but not everybody writes for a living so I’m prepared to let him/her off for the custard line alone. Who would’ve thought when I started my career as a serious business journalist that I’d end up blogging about custard? What is the world coming to?

  3. charlie f. kohn 28 January, 2009 at 10:52 am #

    first to make myself clear: i have never be on board a virgin atlantic flight. i had my share of flying as a passenger though over the years with more than 700 flights completed.
    this said, i may revert to the subject matter, airline food. generations of comedians have made their living on that subject, and millions of passengers have entered into lengthy party talk about it. my experience is that many people complaining have turned out to be far away from a capacity to estimate properly and to compare given their choice of food on ground. this may exclude business/first class flying and the occasional lapse of choice and/or preparation by an airline.

    give me a break.
    such baaji complaint can´t be taken seriously. sir richard probably did the best he could do, he read it and ignored it.

    and a serious aviation or travel journalist also should know better than over enjoying on a drop in the ocean.

    have a wonderful day
    photography // design // madrid

  4. Stuart Clarke 28 January, 2009 at 11:10 am #

    I think the letter is humorous and certainly lit up my Monday. Yes it is repetitive and a little smug but Richard Branson thought enough of it to give the complainer a call.

    I think we have all been on a flight where the food has been bad and unlike a restaurant there is no option to order anything else. Generally airline food has improved massively, but i felt he did capture that sense of frustration.

    Well done Kerry and let the debate rage on!


  5. Andrew Butchers 28 January, 2009 at 11:25 pm #

    So David, and Charlie – which was the starter ? The sponge with the tomato, or the item with peas in it ?

  6. Jon Green 30 January, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    Paul Charles [...] went on to say that [...] it was “award-winning food, which is very popular on our Indian routes”

    Ah, but which awards? Most Yellow Gel In An Airline Meal perhaps, or Delhi Belhi On A Plate Lifetime Achievement perchance?

  7. David Learmount 30 January, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    Good question, Andrew.

    But don’t look for expertise here! The photos were not very good, and even if they were I’m not sure I would have been any the wiser.

    My gripe about the guy who provided this massive acreage of overindulgent undergraduate humour is that he didn’t experiment at all. He admits he ate nothing, tasted nothing. His entire case is based on what the stuff looks like.

    I don’t know why I should get even slightly annoyed about what is just a harmless letter that has caused much amusement, but to me this guy just sounds like a kid that looks at a meal and says “yuck”. Then he says “yuck” again many times, and that is actually the full extent of his case. He talks of colour, of custard, and mustard, but how does he know what the substances are if he hasn’t tasted them? He’s playing “looks like”. His guesses are almost certainly just plain wrong.

    Let’s call in some expertise. I’m sending a link to this blog to one of our sister RBI publications Caterer and Hotelkeeper . I want them to identify the substances, and also tell us something about how airline food wins awards. Who judges it, and do they judge it in the kitchen or on random flights?

  8. Amanda Afiya 30 January, 2009 at 4:30 pm #

    OK, we at Caterer and Hotelkeeper and accept the challenge. While our news desk awaits a response from Virgin’s catering team, we have asked our cheffing community to come back with their thoughts on what they think the food is and, better still, recreate it. We’ll keep you posted!

  9. Phil 30 January, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

    Ammusing not in the slightest, we in customer services are exposed to all manner of correspondence from people termed in our industry as professional letter writers.

    Mr Learmounts comments in our minds sum up this sad individual precisely, clearly a person with to much time on his hands and a camera, enhanced by a minimal understanding of the queens english.

    Our sugestion is that he should look at himself & rejoin the real world soon.

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