We travel writers are a difficult lot to impress. But when Alaska Airlines made national news last summer for installing a pancake printing machine in its Board Room lounges, I squealed with delight (actually, it was more of a silent squeal; my Yahoo Travel colleagues don’t take kindly to squealing at work).
News that an airline was allowing passengers access to a machine that makes something as wonderful as pancakes — little slices of sweet, fluffy goodness that you get to douse in sweet syrupy goodness — actually made me proud to be a human being. Sure, we destroy the planet, kill each other for no reason, and post satirical news stories on our Facebook feeds because we think they’re real. But an invention this wondrous, I thought, proves once and for all that we still deserve our place at the top of the food chain.
Despite my glee, I let almost a year go by without seeing this miracle of innovation for myself. For as much as I love pancakes, I rarely allow myself to partake — especially since I moved to Los Angeles, where carbs are illegal.
But when I finally booked a flight on Alaska Airlines for an assignment in Anchorage, I decided this new airport lounge innovation was worth suspending my self-imposed pancake ban for three reasons: 1.) Vacation calories don’t count; everybody knows that. 2.) I was going to be traipsing through the Alaskan wilderness on my trip, so I figured I should carbo-load in case I had to run from a bear.
And 3.) It’s a flippin’ pancake machine!
So after spending the five-hour flight to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport fidgeting in anticipation, I headed straight for the Alaska Airlines Board Room for my pancake encounter. I found myself thinking about that Louis CK routine where he makes fun of himself for stopping to eat at a Cinnabons in the airport where he’d just arrived, which was essentially what I was doing — except that pancakes are much, much better than Cinnabons. Still I continued undaunted, refusing to let the specter of food shaming deter me from my quest.
At least if I was going to be food shamed for seeking out airport pancakes, I wouldn’t be alone. “Some people say they have [memberships to Alaska Airlines’ Board Rooms] just for the pancake machine,” Board Room manager Jennifer Freeberg-Huss told me when I arrived in the lounge. Word is, some passengers even arrange their flight times so that they can arrive in time to use the pancake machine during its hours of operation, which are usually from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. (by the way, if you’re one of those people who adjust your travel schedules solely for pancakes, follow me on Twitter. I think we might be potential best friends).
Of course, drawing weary travelers like me to their Board Rooms is the whole point behind Alaska Airlines’ pancake machine. Major air carriers no longer are satisfied to just compete with each other in the air; they’re also in a bitter ground war over airport-based amenities, and airport lounges are right on the front lines. LoungeBuddy.com co-founder Tyler Dikman estimated in an interview with Tnooz that airlines take in over $10 billion annually from their airport lounges. Each airline is trying to one-up the others with some interesting lounge perks — from the Qatar Airways Airport Lounge Jacuzzi at Doha International Airport to the billiards table at Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport.
And, of course, there’s Alaska Airlines’ pancake printer, which Jennifer tells me came about after the machine’s distributor, Popcake North America, approached the airline with a simple proposal: we’ll give you the pancake machines if you buy the batter from us. “We were totally up for it; it was kind of a no brainer,” Jennifer recalls, saying the airline jumped at the chance to “surpass the competition and find new ways to set the Board Rooms apart.”
Jennifer showed me how to use the machine. Step One: Push a button on the front of the machine. Step Two: Wait a couple of minutes. Step Three: Enjoy your pancakes. It really is a simple, fully automated process. The only way it could be less complicated is if it were one of those replicators on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” where you just speak your order and it materializes instantly. (Speaking of which, why didn’t Captain Picard ever order a plate of flapjacks to go with his Earl Grey tea?)
As delightful as Jennifer was, my raging pancake craving could only survive just so much small talk. “Would you like to try some pancakes?” Jennifer finally asked. Of course! We quickly whipped up a batch and I finally got to sample them. The pancakes themselves are medium-sized (the machine allows you to adjust the size of your pancakes, but Alaska Airlines keeps theirs medium-sized to fit on the plates in the Board Room). I’m pleased to say that after numerous samples, I can give Alaska Airlines’ printed pancakes the thumbs up. They are fluffy with a sweet, but not overbearing, flavor. And they are pleasantly chewy — not at all spongy like you might expect from an automated chef. Technology, you win again!
Jennifer seemed pleased at my enthusiastic reaction to the pancake printer. “We have them in all of the Board Rooms,” she told me. “Anchorage, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles…”
Wait, what…? Los Angeles? You mean I didn’t have to fly all the way to Anchorage to try this out? I could have just driven to LAX? I guess in my pancake-induced glee after reading Alaska Airlines’ “WE HAVE A PANCAKE MACHINE!!!!” headline, I forgot to read the fine print.
Oh well, it’s not as if I flew to Anchorage just for pancakes — that would have been silly right? But even if I had, it was worth the trip. Because Alaska Airlines’ pancake machine is probably the tastiest airline perk out there.
…at least until an airline installs a bacon-making machine.