Thursday, June 20, 2024

Will I get a meal on my flight? What to know about food service on major US airlines.

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  • Most domestic economy passengers don’t get a full meal included in the price of their ticket.
  • Many flights, especially long-haul ones to international destinations, include meal service, even in economy.
  • Even on flights where meals aren’t included in the ticket price, many offer more filling options for purchase than the free bag of nuts or packet of Biscoff you may get otherwise.

Travelers often assume they won’t be fed when they fly. While it’s true that most domestic economy passengers don’t get a full meal included in the price of their ticket, it’s inaccurate to say meals never get served on planes.

Many flights, especially long-haul ones to international destinations, include meal service, even in economy. And even on flights where meals aren’t included in the ticket price, many offer more filling options for purchase than the free bag of nuts or packet of Biscoff you may get otherwise. Frequent flyer status can also get many travelers perks like free premium drinks on most carriers.

Here’s what the four major U.S. airlines offer for inflight meals and refreshments.

American Airlines

Free in Main Cabin and Main Cabin Extra on all flights traveling more than 250 miles

  • Tea, Coffee, water, Coca-Cola soft drink products
  • Biscoff cookies and pretzels

For purchase in economy on domestic flights

  • Premium snacks
  • Beer, wine and spirits

Free in economy on flights to and from Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East, select South American cities, between the mainland U.S. and Hawaii, and on the following routes: JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO, JFK-SNA, BOS-LAX and select departures on the MIA-LAX route:

  • All free beverages and snacks available on shorter flights
  • Inflight meal
  • Beer, wine and spirits

In domestic first class, premium economy, business class on short-haul international flights, and all travelers on Flagship Business and Flagship First tickets have access to all the previously listed free refreshments, plus premium dining menus that vary by region and route, along with specially selected beer, wine and spirits.

Delta Air Lines

Free in Main Cabin on all flights traveling more than 250 miles

  • Tea, Coffee, water, Coca-Cola soft drink products
  • A selection of snacks

For purchase in economy on domestic flights

  • Snack boxes
  • Beer, wine and spirits

Comfort+, domestic first class, Premium Select and Delta One fares always include beer, wine, and spirits. Free hot meals are also available on select domestic First Class and all domestic Delta One flights. 

On long-haul international flights, meals and beverages, including beer, wine and spirits, are included for every cabin class.

Cruising Altitude: What’s the deal with airplane food? I went to Atlanta to find out.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest only has economy class, so all its flights include:

  • Tea, Coffee, water, Coca-Cola soft drink products
  • A selection of snacks

Beer, wine and spirits are available for purchase, though elite Rapid Rewards members may receive drink coupons as a perk.

United Airlines

In economy, all flights over 300 miles include free snacks, water, tea, coffee and soft drinks, and beer, wine and spirits for purchase.

On flights over 500 miles, premium snack boxes are also available for purchase in economy, and on domestic flights over 1,190 miles, hot meals are also available for purchase in economy.

On flights to Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the South Pacific, and select destinations in Latin America, the economy fare includes a meal, snack, beer, wine, water, soft drinks, coffee and tea. Spirits are also available for purchase.

In domestic business and first class:

  • Free alcohol is available on request on flights over 300 miles
  • Free snacks are also available on flights between 300 and 900 miles
  • On flights over 900 miles, a hot meal will be offered
  • On flights over 1,190 miles, a pre-arrival snack will also be offered in addition to the main meal

On Polaris international business class flights, a premium hot meal and beer, wine and spirits are included in the price.  

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at zwichter@usatoday.com.

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