The list of formerly free airline options just keeps on growing. However, where food is concerned, what was free is coming back packaged as premium with premium prices.
Most legacy carriers gave up on free food in coach a long time ago. New paid, onboard options are often less than exciting. They are often a last resort for travelers who don’t have time to buy something more interesting at the airport. So my guess is that these meals and snacks, while not inexpensive, are not a major profit center for the airlines. Now, Delta is testing a new wrinkle — upscale (compared with what was once offered) meals with premium prices.
The option is only available right now on transcontinental flights between JFK and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle Airports. There are salads for $11.99, and entrées like rosemary shrimp, grilled herb chicken (above) and beef tenderloin starting for $15.99; all served cold. There will be no premium breakfast or red-eye offerings for now.
Delta says the meals are “inspired by our BusinessElite® menu.” They must be purchased at least 48 hours in advance and are nonrefundable within 48 hours of the flight time. Anyone purchasing a premium meal will be served before other coach travelers and the meal does include a bottle of water.
I can see pluses and minuses for travelers.
First off, the new meals sound healthier than the usual sandwich and salty snack offerings. And, who doesn’t like to be served first?
Delta also does say that anyone who doesn’t like the meals can request a refund, although no refunds will be available on board.
That’s the good news.
These meals are also pricier even than many meals available at the airport. I have to wonder how many travelers will go through the trouble of requesting a refund if they are just okay.
In addition, the process strikes me as a fair amount more unpaid work for flight attendants. They’ll have to verify all the premium meals and serve them while no doubt getting queries from other passengers — How come I wasn’t offered that? Can’t you serve me/my kid something now? Can I buy one?
And that’s on a normal flight.
Aircraft changes, which aren’t that unusual, might mean the person who ordered the meal isn’t where they’re supposed to be. (Presumably anyone with a seat change who has ordered a meal should tell the flight attendant, but passengers don’t always think about things like that.)
Then, what happens if the meal isn’t what the traveler expected — the site says “served chilled,” but one has to assume not everyone will read that. And, in this age of allergies, no doubt there will be some complaints about something in the meal. (In the fine print, Delta does say that “at this time special dietary or cultural restrictions meals will not be available.”)
According to the offer, the meals will come from a “Delta-branded third-party website.” Not sure if the meals will come from Delta’s standard kitchens, but they will also add one more step for workers catering the plane. And, what happens when an aircraft arrives late and the airline is trying to do a rush turn-around?
As a travel agent and frequent traveler, I also remember how often special meals didn’t end up on the plane. (The usual airline response then was to blame the travel agent.) Even now, in first and business class, I’ve had clients tell me the meal they requested wasn’t on board. Stuff happens. But when something costs extra, the cranky factor presumably goes way up.
So what do you think, Consumer Traveler readers? Any more thoughts? Would you be likely to pre-order and prepay a meal? Would you do it if the airline offered hot dishes? Would you like airlines to offer more choices? Prepaid premium wine or beer? Premium desserts?
Janice Hough is a California-based travel agent a travel blogger and a part-time comedy writer. A frequent flier herself, she’s been doing battle with airlines, hotels, and other travel companies for over three decades. Besides writing for Travelers United, Janice has a humor blog at Leftcoastsportsbabe.com (Warning, the political and sports humor therein does not represent the views of anyone but herself.)