Delta used to offer SkyDeli and America West had Snack Sac. On a short flight in coach you’d pick up a bag with food on your way down the jetway. That saved work for the flight attendants and still let the airline feed you.
American Airlines had Bistro Bags. I spotted one of the old carts, not in use since around 2004, at New York JFK late last month:
Carry on food was a little awkward for someone with a rollaboard and a laptop bag or purse, picking up the food and managing to make it to your seat, juggling your stuff as you get settled.
The quality of what was in the bag varied over time, in the 90s you might have gotten a chicken sandwich with cheddar, lettuce and tomato along with a bag of chips and a cookie. At one point American Airlines did a deal with America Online to include their startup CDs in the bistro bags. Airline passengers, of course, are a desirable demographic to advertise to.
We all used to complain about airline food in coach, it was a joke, but once it was gone we missed it. One of the kinder things that was said about the bistro bags by around 2003 or 2004 was “beastly bags” — and of course the same bag that contained food soon doubled as an air sickness bag.
Bistro bags were initially eliminated from flights under 3 hours, and then free meals in coach on American officially ended February 1, 2005.
Delta, of course, is bringing meals back in coach for 12 markets.