Lonely Planet Writer

US airlines restoring small perks – like pretzels and free movies

After a decade and a half of cutbacks and austere measures, US carriers are restoring little perks, like free snacks or in some cases free meals, to their passengers at the back of the plane.

American Airlines.
American Airlines. Image by Aero Icarus / CC BY-SA 2.0

The airlines may still eschew giving back the extra leg room of old or indeed, in some cases free checked bags, but there is a noticeable improvement as they have begun to offer a larger selection of free in-flight entertainment. This week American Airlines became the latest big carrier to announce the return of free snacks to economy passengers.  The Montreal Gazette reports that following the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the reduction in air travel, US airlines removed the perks – from hot meals to blankets and pillows on their domestic flights. The vice-president of global marketing at American, Fernand Fernandez claimed the measures were taken to help companies survive the severe downturn.

In-flight snacks and meals will be back on the menu free for some travellers on domestic US flights
In-flight snacks and meals will be back on the menu free for some travellers on domestic US flights Image by Simon_sees / CC BY 2.0

For instance, Continental Airlines claimed it saved US$2.5 million a year when it stopped giving out free cookies and mini bags of pretzels in 2011. The economic conditions forced mergers that created the current situation where four super-carriers control four-fifths of the US market. Between that and the cramming of extra seats into planes to maximise revenue, air companies are once again showing record profits.Put another way by Mr Fernandez, the airlines have fixed their core business and are once again able “reinvest in our customers.”

That has come with the purchase of new planes and slowly the goodies are percolating down to the back of the craft. American will begin next month by offering fliers travelling between New York and San Francisco or Los Angeles Biscoff cookies or pretzels. The following month, similar snacks will be available on all other domestic routes. By May, a full meal service will be reintroduced for coach passengers between Dallas and Hawaii.

Only one of the other large legacy carriers, Delta Air Lines managed to maintain snacks even during bankruptcy. American is providing free entertainment with 60 television shows, 300 music albums and up to 40 movies. Delta, on the other hand, are focusing more on entertainment that allows passengers to stream 138 TV shows and over 65 movies for free to their own devices.