Friday, June 14, 2024

Free snacks now big at all 3 big US airlines — even in coach


The 'stroopwafel' will be among United's free breakfast

Get ready to enjoy your stroopwafels, United customers. Or your rice crackers and mini pretzel sticks. Free snacks returned to the economy cabin of United Airlines’ flights Monday.

And, soon, free snacks will be back for American Airlines’ coach-class customers, too.

American, the nation’s biggest carrier, announced Monday that it will restore complimentary snacks and add more free in-flight entertainment options in the coach-class cabin.

The moves by United and American – Delta never removed its complimentary snacks – come as the airline industry has found stable financial footing after a tumultuous run from 2001 into the early 2010s. U.S. carriers lost money by the billions last decade. But a wave of consolidation subsequently swept over the industry, producing several mega-mergers that has left the U.S. with four giant airlines that control about 80% of the passenger traffic here.

Some consumer advocates have bemoaned that development, arguing that fewer airlines means less competition. On the flipside, U.S. airlines are now reporting record profits. And they’ve begun to use at least some of those profits to improve passengers’ flying experiences.

"What has changed is that the airlines have been able to fix our core business and be able to reinvest in our customers," Fernand Fernandez, American’s VP – Global Marketing, says to The Associated Press,

The free snacks in coach class may not mark a sea-change in how airlines operate, but it does signal competition among the biggest carriers. And it may be a shot across the bow to an emerging breed of “ultra” low-cost carriers that are increasingly expanding at the hubs of major airlines like American, Delta and United.

Those discount carriers – Spirit and Frontier are the biggest in the USA – make their mark by offering rock-bottom fares but charge extra for almost everything else. Even seat reservations are not free.

"We know that we have customers who select our airline based on price and we're really excited to offer them a product that is superior to choosing an ultra-low cost carrier," Fernandez says to AP.

It also allows American and United to keep up with Delta, says Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel consultancy Atmosphere Research Group. Even Southwest, which offers only coach class seats, has continued to offer basic complimentary snacks.

"These are token investments in the passenger experience that will not cost airlines a lot of money but are small ways to make passengers a little bit happier," Harteveld adds to AP. "American and United realized: We don't let other airlines have an advantage on price, why let them have one on pretzels."

As for American, its free snacks will be available this month on its transcontinental flights connecting New York JFK to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. The carrier says all other domestic flights will have “an assortment of complimentary snacks … by April.”

“We want customers to choose American every time they fly,” American's Fernandez says in a statement announcing the change. “We are giving our customer more choices to enhance their personal flying experience by offering new service and new entertainment options in all cabins.”

American's customers on flights departing prior to 9:45 a.m. local time will receive Biscoff cookies. Passengers on later flights will get either Biscoff cookies or pretzels. American’s heartier “Food for Sale” items will continue to be sold on its flights.

Starting in May, however, American’s coach-class customers will get complimentary meal service on all flights between Hawaii and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). DFW is American’s busiest hub.

Beyond snacks, American says it will expand its selection of free in-flight entertainment choices on domestic flights with in-seat entertainment.

Meanwhile, at United, the free coach-class snacks started Monday. United, which first announced the move in December, even went to far as to coin a #GetTheStroop hashtag on social media to promote its new breakfast offering.

United’s free snacks will be offered on all of United's flights in North America, the Caribbean and between Honolulu and Guam that did not already have a complimentary meal or snack option in coach class. The move comes as new United CEO Oscar Munoz has tried to put customer service in the spotlight at the carrier, acknowledging earlier this fall that "the implementation of the United and Continental merger has been rocky for customers and employees."

United says coach-class customers on flights that depart before 9:45 a.m. will receive a morning stroopwafel, which the carrier describes as “a Dutch, caramel-filled waffle that pairs perfectly with coffee or tea.”

For flights that depart after 9:45 a.m., economy customers will get “packaged savory snacks, such as an Asian-style snack mix of rice crackers, sesame sticks and wasabi peas or a zesty-ranch mix of mini pretzel sticks, Cajun corn sticks and ranch soy nuts.”

The free snacks will be offered in tandem with United’s for-pay “Choice Menu” items. Those items range from small snacks like Chex Mex ($3.99) and Pringles ($3.99) to more robust breakfast, lunch and dinner options that cost up to $9.99. The availability of the Choice Menu options varies by flight.

United's Latin America flights that already had free meals in coach will not receive the new snacks since the airline will retain its current complimentary offerings in those markets.


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Author: Red

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