Free in-flight meals in coach were eliminated from most domestic flights in cost-cutting moves few years ago, and most travelers have gotten used to bringing their own food aboard planes. Food-at-a-price never sold well and airlines had inventory control issues. Many tried box meals and snacks with long shelf lives but most offered limited taste appeal and poor nutrition. According to a story by Scott McCartney for the online edition of the Wall Street Journal, carriers say their coach food programs typically only covered costs, with any profits usually offset by unsold food they bought from caterers and ended up throwing out.
This summer some airlines have upgraded their food offerings in an effort to turn coach food into a money-maker, and to better compete with improved airport food outlets. Replacing the boxes with beef jerky and soggy turkey sandwiches are fresh foods, lighter offerings, and even the kind of cuisine you get in first class.
One example cited in the online.wsj story is Delta Air Lines, which has been rolling out new coach food items created by celebrity chef Todd English, including grilled chicken gyros, and almond-butter-and-grape-jelly sandwiches. Other well-received choices include $2 cups of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which have been added to some flights. One of the best-selling items, Delta says, is a $6 fruit-and-cheese plate with smoked Gouda, Havarti and Derby cheeses paired with grapes, pecan halves and dried apricots.
Hawaiian Airlines, which still serves free coach meals on its flights between the mainland U.S. and Hawaii, now has added a meal-upgrade program. All its free offerings are now all natural without preservatives. Passengers can get free manicotti with chocolate cake, or pay $10 for Caesar salad with grilled chicken or satay chicken in vermicelli noodles. The best-seller is a sushi bento box with California rolls, edamame and teriyaki chicken.
It may not be free, but it certainly beats a bag of honey-roasted peanuts.
We’ll keep our eyes on this trendâ€”at 35,000 feetâ€”and see if passengers go for the upscaled food-for-purchase items, or continue to bag it. As long as the economy continues to struggle, we’re betting on the bag.
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