Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Food & Drinks on Planes: The Free Stuff

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, major U.S. carriers spent $3.67 per passenger on food in 2009, compared to $4.77 in 1999.

That may come as a surprise to many flyers, who have seen complimentary meals on planes disappear over the past decade. Airlines still spent $3.67? On what?

Meal service has been downgraded in many cases to nothing more than beverage service for economy-class flyers. It’s only those in the first-class and business-class cabins that still get free food. For everyone else, it’s basically buy-on-board food.

Still, some airlines do serve complimentary snack items. If there’s any trend, it’s that the so-called “low cost” airlines tend to provide more than the older “legacy” carriers.

When it comes to free food and drinks, among U.S. airlines, number one for many flyers would be JetBlue. The carrier offers customers a selection of six different snack items – and you can even have more than one item!

One regional carrier also stands out: Alaska Airlines’ Horizon Air division. Fly with Horizon, and you can sample complimentary wines and microbrews.

It’s worth noting that just one airline still serves complimentary meals on domestic flights: Hawaiian Airlines.

And the biggest cheapskates? That would be United Airlines and US Airways, where you get a beverage – that’s it. No snacks.

And in the case of US Airways, that’s an improvement. You may recall that two years ago, the airline decided to start charging $2 for a soda (which they later backed away from, after a significant public outcry).

Here’s a summary of what’s still free for economy-class customers on U.S. carriers. If we’ve missed something, be sure to leave a comment at the bottom and let us know.


Coffee, juices, Coca-Cola products, and snacks, including pretzels.


Coca-Cola products, juices, coffee, tea.
On flights to Hawaii, there’s also POG and pineapple juices.

American Airlines

Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper products, plus juices, coffee, and tea.
Complimentary meals are still served on flights to Europe, Japan, and Haiti.


Coca-Cola products, juices, Lipton tea, and coffee.
The airline still offers complimentary meals on Intercontinental flights and domestic flights longer than six hours.

Delta Air Lines

Coca-Cola products, coffee, tea, and juices.
Also offers complimentary peanuts or Biscoff cookies.

Frontier Airlines

Pepsi products, Dr. Pepper, Caribou Coffee, tea, and juices.
Plus, the former signature item of Midwest, chocolate chip cookies.

Hawaiian Airlines

Inter-island flights: Island Maid juice.
Flights to/from the Mainland, Australia, Manila, and Tahiti: Complimentary meals are provided. On late-night flights, a smaller snack will be offered instead.

Horizon Air

Alaska’s regional operator, Horizon Air, is a noteworthy addition to the list.
Complimentary Northwest wines and microbrews are offered on all Horizon flights to passengers over 21. New selections are offered each month.
Non-alcoholic beverages: Coca-Cola products, hot chocolate, spiced cider, Starbucks coffee, and Tazo teas.


Beverages: Dunkin Donuts coffee, tea, Coca Cola products, and juices.
Snacks: Terra Blues chips, Doritos munchies, roasted cashews, animal crackers, plantain chips, and chocolate chip cookies.


Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, juices, and Coca-Cola products, and Dr. Pepper.
Free peanuts, pretzels, or Nabisco snack items.

United Airlines

Complimentary soft drinks, juices, tea, and Starbucks coffee.
No free snacks.

US Airways

Coca-Cola Products, juices, Higgins & Burke coffee, and Mother Parkers tea.
No free snacks.

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