Delta Testing Free Meals in Coach

I follow @JonNYC on Twitter largely for American Airlines news but he happened to be on a Delta flight from San Francisco to New York JFK where Delta was serving meals in economy.

Coach passengers were given a choice between a smoked turkey sandwich and a veggie wrap.

This isn’t fancy, but it’s food bundled with economy tickets on a domestic flight — albeit a ‘premium transcon’ (New York – San Francisco, similar to New York – Los Angeles, where flat beds are the norm in business class).

Apparently this isn’t being offered on all cross country flights or even all flights in these markets. It remains a test which started earlier in November, though I’m unsure exactly what they would be ‘testing’. As a Delta spokesperson explains it to me,

Delta is currently testing complimentary meals in the Main Cabin on Transcon flights as part of the airline’s focus on continuously looking at ways to enhance and elevate the on-board experience for customers. During the test period customer satisfaction scores will be closely monitored to determine the impact on the in-flight experience. Additional details will be shared once the results of the testing have been reviewed and a go-forward plan has been finalized.

Interestingly providing free food to all economy passengers reduces the differentiation between economy and Delta’s “Comfort+” extra legroom seating that already offers a buy on board item for flights of this distance. So if they do add this perk to coach they might need to improve the Comfort+ food offering on these routes as well.

I’m not sure that cuts to the American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus programs, which reduce the motivation to choose those carriers, winds up being such a good idea. Delta remains the better operational airline in terms of on-time performance and flight completion. They’re investing more in their basic clubs. And if they start serving meals in coach on premium routes United and American could be forced to do the same just to keep up.

Do those mileage cuts actually save money? Here’s another scenario in which they may not. And that’s even apart from hypothesizing that a $50 million cost savings could be overwhelmed by a 10% reduction in desire to acquire and spend on a co-brand credit card (given a $2 billion a year co-brand deal).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Interesting. Don’t forget that Delta restored meals on flights to and from Hawaii, including its epic non-stop from Atlanta to Honolulu. They’ve been serving yuppie-style wraps in comfort-plus seats on the “shuttle” between Los Angeles and San Francisco, too.

    Personally, I’d like to see Delta restore meals — or at least pre-ordered (even if there’s a charge) — in first-class on domestic flights between 90 minutes and 2 hours in duration.

  2. I had free turkey sandwiches in coach on SJU-JFK on DL last month in both directions which I had never seen before.

  3. Hi Gary. Love your blog but not sure if I follow. You noted that UA/AA FFP devals might hurt their bottom line. But what does that have to do with DL’s operations?

  4. I flew SFO to JFK about 2 weeks ago and was shocked how much decent food they were serving for free in economy. I just figured it was business as usual for the long flight. I don’t recall them saying it was a test. But, then again, I was wearing noise cancelling headphones most of the time. Then a week later I flew the reverse and was expecting a big dinner and got practically nothing unless I bought One of their cold sandwiches/wraps. So, if this was a “test” then they pleasantly surprised me going Eastbound and disappointed me going Westbound. I had to dig into my own stash to have something fair without paying for it.

  5. Wow. didn’t this used to be SOP?

    Guess, I’ve been the front of the bus for too long, or on European carriers…

  6. Gary,

    They are testing the impacts on customer satisfaction scores. They are not going to spend the money on a full scale roll out if they can’t show a quantitative benefit.

  7. It’s not as if this costs Delta anything. Let’s say it’s $5 for a meal on a domestic flight in economy-class — excluding alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. They’ll just include that somewhere in the airfare or as a catering fee. Personally, it’s a smart move. It would be an even smarter move to allow all passengers, in any class, to pre-order meals. Air Berlin does this. It’s great.

  8. Surprisingly, there is no mention of jetBlue enhancing its transcons in many markets from all coach A320’s to Mint configured A321’s, or any increased competition from Alaska Airlines if its proposed acquisition of Virgin America takes place. Jetblue’s Mint configured A321’s and Virgin America’s coach product is already viewed as being vastly superior to any of the “Big 3″ legacy airlines, with jetBlue known for its free, unlimited snacks (plus a buy-onboard for transcons), 33” pitch, 100 channel live tv, wifi, and the wider seats available on Airbus’ narrowbodies than Delta’s Boeing narrowbodies. Virgin America’s coach service is also viewed by many as being superior to anything offered by the “Big 3″ even if the seat pitch is 32” and meals are buy-onboard. So, with these two airlines increasing their footprint in the lucrative transcon markets, with one (jetBlue) already strong in key east coast cities, and the other possibly achieving a scale it previously lacked after being taken over by an already strong west coast airline, Alaska Airlines, Delta and its legacy peers will need to offer more than the awful, miserly service (often on older Boeing 757’s or worse, dreaded 737’s) they’ve gotten away with during the recent years of limited competition, and oligopolistic, fee driven, “densified” cabins pricing in these highly profitable markets.

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