Say goodbye to the drink cart and hello to the plastic bag of snacks and water. Or thirst.
In the months since the coronavirus pandemic hit, almost everything about the travel experience has changed. Thanks to a combination of safety concerns and cost-cutting, most airlines in the U.S. and even abroad have drastically scaled back their in-flight service.
Wondering whether you'll get a meal, snacks, water, or nothing at all on your next flight? It varies by airline – and how far you'll be flying.So here's a look at the typical in-flight experience today, and a breakdown of how some of the major U.S. airlines are approaching it. Oh, and that critical question on many minds: What about getting some alcohol on board?
A Look at Recent Flights
Earlier this summer, I saw firsthand just how much has changed in airports and planes during a quick trip to Washington, D.C. and back. And to see how things compare between different airlines, I flew American Airlines one way and Delta Air Lines on another.
And there are huge differences in how airlines are handling drink and snack service flying today. But no matter which airline you fly, you should expect less.
My flight with Delta started off strong, as a flight attendant handed each passenger a Purell wipe at the boarding door. And then shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant came through the aisle with prepackaged bags with a small bottle of water, two snacks, a napkin, a small card, and more Purell.
It's not much, but it's a thoughtful package – and more than enough to get through flights of just two to three hours. And compared to American, this stood out. Take a look at the haul I got on my American Airlines flight earlier that day.
That's right: Nothing. No water, no snacks, no cleaning supplies, or prepackaged bundles. As you'll see, that is the standard on these short flights operated by American's regional carriers – unless you specifically ask for something to drink, you won't get anything during the flight.
And once again, that's just fine for these short flights. But it means you should prepare by bringing your own drinks and food onboard.
As you might expect, the level of service has dropped overall as airlines try to limit their flight attendants' contact with passengers. During the course of my two-hour flight with American, for example, I hardly saw the flight attendants at all. They came through the cabin twice throughout the flight to collect garbage, and that was about it.
How Each Airline Handles In-Flight Service
Airlines aren't hiding the fact that service onboard has changed. Many spell out exactly what you'll get flying today. And as you'll see, it varies not just by airline, but by how long your flight is, too.
Thrifty Tip: Not sure how long your next flight will be? Plug it into to GCMap.com and see.
As a general rule of thumb, you should expect drastically reduced service on some of the major U.S. carriers. When it comes to budget carriers, many are still selling individual snacks and drinks as normal – but there are exceptions.
- Flights under 350 miles: No service.
- Flights over 350 miles: Dasani bottled water, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, ginger ale, seltzer water, orange juice, and tea are available. Coffee can be served on flights before 10 a.m. First Class and Premium passengers can also get complimentary beer or wine. First Class flyers can choose from a snack basket or get a fruit and cheese board on flights longer than 670 miles, while everyone else gets a prepackaged snack.
- Flights under 900 miles: Water, soft drinks, and juice are available by request only. No snacks or food is provided or can be purchased. First class passengers can request alcohol.
- Flights 901 miles to 2199 miles: Flyers in the Main Cabin will get a package with bottled water and a snack – unless if you're flying with regional carrier American Eagle. Additional water, soft drinks, and juice may be available upon request. No additional food is available for purchase. First Class travelers will get snacks and water upon boarding, and alcohol is available by request.
- Flights 2,200 miles or longer: Free water, soft drinks, juice, and snacks are served. Meals and alcohol are only available in economy on long-haul international flights. First and business class passengers get food and snacks, and alcohol is available. Meals will be served on one tray.
- Flights under 350 miles: No service.
- Flights 350 miles to 899 miles: All travelers will get a prepackaged bag with snacks and a water bottle. First Class and Delta Comfort passengers can get free beer or wine on flights longer than 500 miles.
- Flights 900 miles or longer: Economy passengers will get a prepackaged bag with snacks and a water bottle. First Class and Delta Comfort flyers can get free wine or beer. First Class passengers also get a “Flight Fuel” box.
- Long-haul international flights: Economy passengers can have a choice of a meal and also get free beer, wine, and liquor. Delta One and Premium Select travelers will get a pre-departure bottle of water, plus their choice of entree and the usual starters, salads, and desserts. Alcohol is available.
Flying economy with JetBlue means you'll get a prepackaged bag with snacks and water. No buy onboard options are available, including alcohol. Flying Mint with JetBlue, you'll get the same food as always, but all served at once.
- Flights shorter than 250 miles: No service.
- Flights longer than 250 miles: Southwest will serve water and snacks, but no alcohol or additional food is available for purchase.
- Flights under 1 hour: Beverages are available, but only upon request.
- Flights under 2 hours 20 minutes: No snacks are available in economy, but First Class passengers will get a prepackaged bag with water, cleaning wipes, and snacks. Coffee and tea are available on flights departing by 9:45 a.m. Free alcohol is available to premium cabin passengers.
- Flights 2 hours 20 minutes or longer: Economy passengers get a prepackaged bag with water, snacks, and cleaning wipes. Premium cabin passengers will get a snack box. Free alcohol is available to premium cabin passengers.
- Premium transcontinental flights: Economy passengers get a prepackaged bag with water, snacks, and cleaning wipes, while premium cabin passengers will get a meal choice and a snack. Free alcohol is available to premium cabin passengers.
- Long-haul international flights: Meals are available to all travelers, as is free alcohol.
Even budget airlines are handling things a bit different from one another these days. Here's a quick look:
- Allegiant: Prepackaged drinks and food are available for purchase as normal.
- Frontier: Frontier is currently only selling bottled water onboard.
- Spirit: In-flight menus have disappeared but food and drink are still available for purchase on Spirit.
- Sun Country: All food and drink service has been suspended.
Don't expect to get much more than a bag with water and snacks flying in the U.S. these days. And unless you're flying up front or on a long-haul international route, don't expect any booze, period.