Passengers joked about airline food, but they secretly welcomed the excuse to break their diets. After all, the meal appeared and there was nothing else to do but eat it.
Even in coach, you could expect a long, boring flight to be interrupted with free drinks, snacks and the wonderful sound of the food cart rattling down the aisle filled with a choice of meals.
Today, however, most free meals in other than business or first class are a distant memory. But a few airlines still serve free meals in coach class.
Hawaiian Airlines tops the list of flying restaurants, offering a free lunch or dinner in coach on all mainland flights. It isn’t five-star gourmet fare, but it’s food. The cart comes laden with goodies, and you get your choice: usually a chicken or pasta dish with tossed salad, or a sandwich.
Hawaiian upholds the Polynesian tradition of hospitality. Nothing happens in Hawaii without food – not a meeting, not a gathering. The free airline food helps ensure the loyalty of Hawaiian residents who most often fly Hawaiian and expect to be fed.
On our recent Hawaiian flight, the coach meal started with a tossed green salad and dressing, followed by a hot pasta marinara, chicken enchilada or a turkey sandwich with chips, and dessert.
Free in-flight food is so rare these days that Continental Airlines has run full-page magazine ads boasting about its free meal service and saying, “A brown bag shouldn’t be your carry-on.”
Continental serves free lunch and dinner in coach on all flights longer than 3 ½ hours, and all flights to and from Hawaii, Asia and Europe.
Meals are also served on all Continental flights to the Caribbean and South America, with the exception of some resort areas. However, if your flight leaves after 7 p.m., it’s snacks only.
Delta offers free meal service in coach on selected Alaska and Hawaii flights based on flight times and on international flights about five hours and longer.
United serves free meals in coach on most international flights between the U.S., South America, Europe, the South Pacific and Asia. The main meal will be a salad, appetizer, choice of hot entrees and dessert.
American has free meals in coach on flights to Europe, Latin America, Japan and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), that depart within traditional meal times.
Air Canada serves a free hot meal in coach on international flights to Europe and Asia. Latitude fare customers, who pay more than economy but less than business, get vouchers for a meal and a snack on flights over two hours.
Because airline food is disappearing faster than cheap flights, if you’re flying coach, don’t count on meals or snacks free or for sale. Many airlines don’t have food for sale unless the flight covers a specified distance or flight time. Always check.