Delta Air Lines is generally regarded as a carrier that has done the most to improve customer service on its planes. As much as I dislike their loyalty program, I’ve always thought they do well at their core job: running an airline. So it’s not too surprising to hear Delta is returning to free meals in economy class on some longer domestic flights. Half of these will be flights departing or heading to Seattle!
As of March 1, expect to get meals in coach on flights from San Francisco (SFO) or Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK).
As of April 24, the service will expand to more routes between Seattle (SEA), Portland (PDX), San Diego (SAN), Boston (BOS), Washington (DCA), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Orlando (MCO), and Raleigh-Durham (RDU). The complete list of eligible routes includes:
- SEA to/from BOS, JFK, FLL, MCO, and RDU
- PDX to/from JFK
- SFO to/from BOS and JFK
- LAX to/from BOS, JFK, and DCA
- SAN to/from JFK
Meals will include options like a honey maple breakfast sandwich, fruit and cheese plate, smoked turkey sandwich, or mediterranean veggie wrap. Customers in Comfort+ will also receive a pre-arrival snack basket and complimentary alcoholic beverages. A mid-flight frozen yogurt bar is exclusive to Comfort+ customers on flights between SFO/LAX and JFK.
Is This the Beginning of a Major Comeback?
Many airlines phased out free meals in coach years ago; the last to hold on was Continental Airlines. The argument then was that replacing free meals with buy-on-board options made it easier to lower fares while offering higher quality food to those who really want it. On the other hand, it’s sometimes led to absurd situations like running out of food on a non-stop flight from New York to Hawaii.
I’ve never let meal choices play a large role in my travel choices. It’s very easy to grab a quick meal at the airport for $10 and eat it on board (or sometimes waiting for a delayed flight). But I do like the gesture on Delta’s part. It’s especially important on those longer flights where people may want to eat in the middle of the trip at a normal mealtime.
Would it be even better to see an option to buy a meal before travel? I pass on lots of meals in-flight, even in first class, just because I’m not hungry. I hate to see that wasted given that better budgeting could make the food better for those who do want to eat. That was the premise for buy-on-board to begin with.
But let’s get back to my opening statement–Delta is much better at operating a high-service airline than it is at running a loyalty program. They’ve stated that as their preference in conversations with other travel bloggers. Good for them. Every company needs a way to differentiate their product and provide a compelling value proposition, and making meals an a la carte purchase would not have the same impact as bundling them with the ticket. It’s now Delta’s responsibility to show that there is enough customer demand for this benefit to drive additional revenue. This is probably not the case on shorter flights, so don’t expect a nationwide rollout.