I flew from New York to LA and back in a single day just to eat a cheeseburger and gawk at planes – here's why I'd do it again

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderMy $US112 cheeseburger.
  • The “$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.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

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.

David McNew / Getty ImagesAn Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 in Los Angeles.

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.

APA Virgin America Airbus A320.

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.

Getty ImagesLos Angeles, California

Fast forward to February 1, I found myself at JFK Airport’s Terminal 7 ready to fly with only a backpack and my camera.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderTerminal 7 at JFK Airport.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderTerminal 7 departure board.

The airline has a few check-in kiosks in the terminal so I could avoid going to the desk for my boarding pass.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAlaska Airlines check-in kiosks at JFK Airport.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAlaska Airlines’ check-in kiosk at JFK Airport.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAn empty Terminal 7.

The terminal is tiny, making it easy to navigate. I was at the gate in seconds just as boarding started.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderThe boarding gate for our flight to Los Angeles.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderBoarding an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderInside an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderOnboard an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA window seat onboard an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737.

I even brought a pillow from a prior trip on Virgin Atlantic’s new Airbus A350 to help me sleep.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderBringing another airline’s pillow on an Alaska Airlines flight.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderThe seatback of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 seat.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderRetreating to the last row.

I waited just until after take-off to head to sleep.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderDeparting from New York.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderWaking up after a near-3-hour nap.

Flight attendants soon came around for the drink and snack service, which consisted of a complimentary soft drink and a delicious Biscoff cookie.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderWater onboard an Alaska Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderWater on board an Alaska Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles.

Despite the Biscoff, I decided I was still hungry and looked at the menu. The options were surprisingly varied and inexpensive.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAlaska Airlines’ in-flight menu.

I ultimately picked a picnic box for $US6.50.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAn Alaska Airlines picnic pack.

It contained a veritable feast of potato chips, beef salami, smoked gouda cheese, whole-wheat crackers, almond toffee, and dry-roasted almonds.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderThe contents of one of Alaska Airlines’ picnic packs.

I woke up in time to enjoy the view from our final two hours as we flew over Colorado…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderFlying over Colorado.


Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderFlying over Arizona.

And California.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderFlying over California.

Before landing in Los Angeles.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderLanding in Los Angeles.

Arriving an hour ahead of schedule, I set out for the day. Time to get my $US112 cheeseburger.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderLos Angeles International Airport.

After a quick taxi ride from the airport, I arrived at my final destination, the In-N-Out Burger on Sepulveda Blvd.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderIn-n-Out Burger

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderPlanespotters at LAX Airport.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAn Alaska Airlines Airbus A320.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Delta Connection E175 landing in Los Angeles.

I settled in for what would be a long day of plane spotting. It was like a day at the beach, only better.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Delta Air Lines Boeing 757.

There were every day, common aircraft such as the Boeing 737…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA landing WestJet Boeing 737.

Airbus A320…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAn Alaska Airlines A320.

And Embraer E-170.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Delta Connection E175 landing in Los Angeles.

But then there were more unique birds such as a Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR.

Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

And Air Canada Airbus A330-300.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAn Air Canada Airbus A330.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderThe park adjacent to LAX Airport.

As lunchtime rolled around, it was time for that burger.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderThe In-n-Out Burger next to LAX Airport.

For those unfamiliar, In-N-Out is a simple burger joint that harkens back to the 1950s.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderThe In-n-Out Burger near LAX Airport.

The menu is simple.…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderIn-n-Out Burger’s menu.

The mandate is clear…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderIn-n-Out Burger’s mandate.

And the workers dress like they would if it actually were the 1950s.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderThe kitchen of In-n-Out Burger.

The crowd was among the largest I’d seen at any fast food restaurant, a testament to the location’s popularity.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderInside the In-n-Out Burger next to LAX Airport.

Despite the crowd, it was only a few minutes before I was back across the street ready for lunch and a show.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderMy $US112 cheeseburger meal.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Double-Double with cheese and french fries.

Read More:
I ate similar meals at McDonald’s and In-N-Out, and I saw why the chains belong to 2 different worlds

The burger, though, was amazing. Worth the $US112 I paid to get it.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderThe $US112 cheeseburger.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Lufthansa Airbus A380.

The first A380 to visit was operated by Lufthansa…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Lufthansa Airbus A380.

Then Air France came right after it…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAn Air France Airbus A380.

Followed by Emirates…

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAn Emirates Airbus A380.

And, finally, Korean Air.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderA Korean Air Airbus A380.

It was quite the show.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAn Air France Airbus A380.

Thoroughly impressed with what I saw, I decided to head to the beach before my flight home and took the bus to Santa Monica.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderSanta Monica Pier.

The 80-degree weather proved to be a well-needed reprieve from the frigid wonderland of New York.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderSanta Monica Beach.

Before heading back to the airport.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderTerminal 6 at Los Angeles International 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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderAlaska Airlines’ Los Angeles departure board.

Luckily, I scored the last window seat on the plane. Time to head home. The aircraft was the same, a Boeing 737-800.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderBoarding Alaska Airlines flight 460.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderMy window seat for the flight home.

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.

Thomas Pallini/Business InsiderArriving back in New York.

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