• The “$100 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 $100 burger at the In-n-Out Burger next to Los Angeles International Airport.
  • The ticket cost me $112 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 airplane parking stands, making it ideal for short trips from nearby airports.

The “$100 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 $112 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 $112 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.

Foto: An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 in Los Angeles.sourceDavid McNew / Getty Images

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.

Foto: A Virgin America Airbus A320.sourceAP

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.

Foto: Los Angeles, CaliforniasourceGetty Images

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

Foto: Terminal 7 at JFK Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Terminal 7 departure board.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Alaska Airlines check-in kiosks at JFK Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Alaska Airlines' check-in kiosk at JFK Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: An empty Terminal 7.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: The boarding gate for our flight to Los Angeles.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Boarding an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Inside an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Onboard an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: A window seat onboard an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Bringing another airline's pillow on an Alaska Airlines flight.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

My nostalgia for Virgin America was enhanced by the fact that the airline offered no physical seatback screens and an aging aircraft interior beyond the newer seats.

Foto: The seatback of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 seat.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Retreating to the last row.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Departing from New York.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Waking up after a near-3-hour nap.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Water onboard an Alaska Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Water on board an Alaska Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Alaska Airlines' in-flight menu.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

I ultimately picked a picnic box for $6.50.

Foto: An Alaska Airlines picnic pack.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: The contents of one of Alaska Airlines' picnic packs.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Flying over Colorado.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider


Foto: Flying over Arizona.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

And California.

Foto: Flying over California.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Before landing in Los Angeles.

Foto: Landing in Los Angeles.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Arriving an hour ahead of schedule, I set out for the day. Time to get my $112 cheeseburger.

Foto: Los Angeles International Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: In-n-Out BurgersourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Planespotters at LAX Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Every few minutes, visitors to the park are treated to a show in the form of low-flying airplanes feet above them on approach to LAX's runway 24R.

Foto: An Alaska Airlines Airbus A320.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: A Delta Connection E175 landing in Los Angeles.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: A Delta Air Lines Boeing 757.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: A landing WestJet Boeing 737.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Airbus A320…

Foto: An Alaska Airlines A320.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

And Embraer E-170.

Foto: A Delta Connection E175 landing in Los Angeles.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: A Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB…

Foto: A Fiji Airways Airbus A350-900 XWB.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner…

Foto: A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

And Air Canada Airbus A330-300.

Foto: An Air Canada Airbus A330.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: The park adjacent to LAX Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: The In-n-Out Burger next to LAX Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: The In-n-Out Burger near LAX Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

The menu is simple.…

Foto: In-n-Out Burger's menu.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

The mandate is clear…

Foto: In-n-Out Burger's mandate.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: The kitchen of In-n-Out Burger.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Inside the In-n-Out Burger next to LAX Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: My $112 cheeseburger meal.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: A Double-Double with cheese and french fries.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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 $112 I paid to get it.

Foto: The $112 cheeseburger.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: A Lufthansa Airbus A380.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

The first A380 to visit was operated by Lufthansa…

Foto: A Lufthansa Airbus A380.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Then Air France came right after it…

Foto: An Air France Airbus A380.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Followed by Emirates...

Foto: An Emirates Airbus A380.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

And, finally, Korean Air.

Foto: A Korean Air Airbus A380.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

It was quite the show.

Foto: An Air France Airbus A380.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Santa Monica Pier.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Santa Monica Beach.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

Before heading back to the airport.

Foto: Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Alaska Airlines' Los Angeles departure board.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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

Foto: Boarding Alaska Airlines flight 460.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: My window seat for the flight home.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider

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.

Foto: Arriving back in New York.sourceThomas Pallini/Business Insider