- The “$US100 hamburger” is an aviation rite of passage and refers to when pilots fly their aircraft to a different city for a meal and come right back.
- As a non-pilot, I flew as a passenger on a plane from New York to get my $US100 burger at the In-n-Out Burger next to Los Angeles International Airport.
- The ticket cost me $US112 on Alaska Airlines, which now serves numerous transcontinental routes from New York.
- The fast-food restaurant is one of the most visited sites in aviation for its unique views of the airport.
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In the aviation world, pilots routinely spend hundreds of dollars on food items.
It’s not the cost of the food itself that drives up the price, but rather the cost of flying to get it.
General aviation pilots, when deciding on where to fly to, will often select destinations with a good food scene or even better, restaurants at the airport themselves. The 121 Restaurant at Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Connecticut, for example, is located at the airport with its own aeroplane parking stands, making it ideal for short trips from nearby airports.
The “$US100 hamburger,” as it’s referred to, is a rite of passage for pilots, especially newly-minted private pilots eager for a reason to get in the air.
For non-pilot aviation enthusiasts such as myself, however, some creativity is required since we can’t as easily hop in a plane and fly it ourselves.
So when the opportunity arose to fly to Los Angeles for $US112 roundtrip thanks to an Alaska Airlines “buy one get one” promotion, I jumped on it for a chance to visit one of the most famous restaurants in aviation.
Here’s my quest for the $US112 cheeseburger.
The journey started in December when Alaska Airlines had a “buy one, get one” promotion for all of its flights, lowering transcontinental fares to as low as double-digit numbers.
Since merging with Virgin America, Alaska now serves cities up and down the West Coast from my hometown of New York, making the decision on where to go difficult. I could pick anywhere from San Diego to Seattle and get a great price.
I ultimately decided on Los Angeles. My plan was to fly out early in the morning on Saturday and back the same night on a red-eye in time to catch the Super Bowl.
Fast forward to February 1, I found myself at JFK Airport’s Terminal 7 ready to fly with only a backpack and my camera.
Alaska operates multiple transcontinental services per day to the West Coast from New York, a market in which it had little presence only a few years ago.
The airline has a few check-in kiosks in the terminal so I could avoid going to the desk for my boarding pass.
I had booked a saver fare, Alaska’s version of basic economy, which surprisingly allowed me a seat selection before departure. The assignment, however, couldn’t be changed after booking without the help of a gate agent.
Forcibly content with my seat, I headed to the gate. Terminal 7 is mostly used for international flights, which depart primarily in the evening and leave the terminal and security checkpoint wide open in the early morning.
The terminal is tiny, making it easy to navigate. I was at the gate in seconds just as boarding started.
Our chariot for the 6 hours and 40-minute flight to Los Angeles would be a Boeing 737-800, one of Alaska’s workhorses and flagships.
I was mildly disappointed before boarding as the airline had stopped using ex-Virgin America Airbus A320s complete with in-flight entertainment screens, cool mood lighting, and a roped-off first-class cabin on the route. I still miss that airline.
At first glance, the seats looked to be slim and without padding but they were actually leather and comfortable. A little meat on the bones definitely would’ve helped, though.
I got to my first seat, a window seat at the back of the plane and was ready for the journey ahead. I’d stayed up late the night before to tire myself out for this flight.
I even brought a pillow from a prior trip on Virgin Atlantic’s new Airbus A350 to help me sleep.
My nostalgia for Virgin America was enhanced by the fact that the airline offered no physical seatback screens and an ageing aircraft interior beyond the newer seats.
I was all set to jet when the flight attendants announced when the boarding door closed and I turned around to see the row behind me was wide open. I quickly staked my claim.
I waited just until after take-off to head to sleep.
I didn’t sleep the whole way as I planned but did get nearly three hours which put a good dent in what turned out to be only a 5 hour and 20-minute cross country journey.
Flight attendants soon came around for the drink and snack service, which consisted of a complimentary soft drink and a delicious Biscoff cookie.
I also connected to the onboard WiFi, where T-Mobile customers get a free hour of service. Non-T-Mobile customers on Alaska can still get free texting for the duration of the flight.
Despite the Biscoff, I decided I was still hungry and looked at the menu. The options were surprisingly varied and inexpensive.
I ultimately picked a picnic box for $US6.50.
It contained a veritable feast of potato chips, beef salami, smoked gouda cheese, whole-wheat crackers, almond toffee, and dry-roasted almonds.
I woke up in time to enjoy the view from our final two hours as we flew over Colorado…
Before landing in Los Angeles.
Arriving an hour ahead of schedule, I set out for the day. Time to get my $US112 cheeseburger.
After a quick taxi ride from the airport, I arrived at my final destination, the In-N-Out Burger on Sepulveda Blvd.
While this seems like an odd destination to fly across the country to visit, its appeal is clear when looking across the street where there’s a tiny little park, filled with people, and LAX is visible just across the way.
Every few minutes, visitors to the park are treated to a show in the form of low-flying aeroplanes feet above them on approach to LAX’s runway 24R.
The park and the In-N-Out next door are known to plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts the world over for their unique vantage point of incoming aircraft.
I settled in for what would be a long day of plane spotting. It was like a day at the beach, only better.
There were every day, common aircraft such as the Boeing 737…
And Embraer E-170.
But then there were more unique birds such as a Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR…
Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB…
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner…
And Air Canada Airbus A330-300.
I was not only impressed by the aircraft that were coming in but also the audience that was watching the aircraft. Families had brought their young children, couples had come on dates, and even bikers stopped by for a piece of the fun, all in the name of aviation.
As lunchtime rolled around, it was time for that burger.
For those unfamiliar, In-N-Out is a simple burger joint that harkens back to the 1950s.
The menu is simple.…
The mandate is clear…
And the workers dress like they would if it actually were the 1950s.
The crowd was among the largest I’d seen at any fast food restaurant, a testament to the location’s popularity.
Despite the crowd, it was only a few minutes before I was back across the street ready for lunch and a show.
While the meal was delicious, I have to agree with BI’s resident taste-tester Irene Jiang who reported that In-N-Out’s French fries aren’t its strong suit.
The burger, though, was amazing. Worth the $US112 I paid to get it.
After lunch, it was time for the highlight of the afternoon in the form of the largest passenger aircraft that serves LAX: the Airbus A380.
The first A380 to visit was operated by Lufthansa…
Then Air France came right after it…
Followed by Emirates…
And, finally, Korean Air.
It was quite the show.
Thoroughly impressed with what I saw, I decided to head to the beach before my flight home and took the bus to Santa Monica.
The 80-degree weather proved to be a well-needed reprieve from the frigid wonderland of New York.
Before heading back to the airport.
This time, however, I was assigned a middle seat and had no recourse to change it until the gate agents showed up an hour before the flight.
Luckily, I scored the last window seat on the plane. Time to head home. The aircraft was the same, a Boeing 737-800.
I wasn’t as bothered with it because I knew I wouldn’t be staying long. To help with these flights, I always bring sleeping pills to aid my drift into a peaceful slumber.
And it worked…I fell asleep in LA and woke up in New York. My trip was over and I was back in time to watch the Kansas City Chiefs beat the 49’ers.
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