Airline Food Used to Be Gross, Now We Pine For It

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.

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, 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. I rather have quality BoB options than complimentary meals in coach. I like how UA has hot BoB options, but they can use a little work as well.

  2. A number of Asian airlines including Bangkok Airways and Vietnam Airlines serve hot meals in coach on one-hour flights. It can be done and done well.

  3. The US carriers are greedy. All the ancillary fees, luggage, seats, etc and where does all the $$$ generated from food sales, where does it all go? To pockets of CEO’s with their multi million dollar salaries instead of investing in passenger facilities and comfort.
    I recently flew on the low cost Turkish carrier Anadolu Jet from Nevshehir to Antalya on a 45 minute flight. They served a tasty sandwich, a cookie, and a nice moist hand napkin (advertisements on packaging pay for them), coffee and tea. Yes this was done by crew of 4/5 on a 737. Unlike US carriers, the hot offerings were actually hot and I was offered a second round of lovely Turkish tea. I have flown on Asian carriers and they do an amazing job, hot meals on short flights. US Flight Attendants are just lazy. They rather sit on their jumpseats, read gossip magazines for hours and are bothered if you ask them for a cup of coffee, but they are always in negotiations with their unions for new contracts with more pay but less work.

  4. I’ve had a proper English breakfast with tea on a morning EDI-LHR flight. Granted there wasn’t any first class seats so the crew could focus on getting everything out and in.

  5. I’ve had hot meals including beverage service and dessert on Jet Airways and Air India on coach all across India on flights as short as 55 minutes. The stewards were literally running through the aisles passing out cans of soda or Kingfisher beer, then used carts for the choice of hot entree, including hot roti and mango mousse. To finish they collected everything up and we’re seated mere minutes before landing. But it all worked.

    It always gets me how even in business class a US carrier FA can barely serve the 6 or 12 people they have up front. Easier to close the galley curtain and hide. They’re certainly making it easier for their bosses to rack up those record multi-billion dollar profits.

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