U.S. airlines cut back meals for economy passengers long ago to save money. These days, getting anything more than a bag of pretzels or cookies on domestic flights is a rarity unless you're flying cross-country.
But as of March 1, United will begin serving free sandwiches on its nonstop flights to Honolulu (HNL) from Denver (DEN), Houston-Intercontinental (IAH), Chicago-O'Hare (ORD), Newark (EWR), Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD), and Guam (GUM), Brian Sumers from Skift reports. Passengers on shorter flights from the West Coast, like San Francisco (SFO), won't get fed.
It follows a brief test where passengers liked getting a sandwich on flights from Chicago to Hawaii – go figure.
Here's the latest in @united catering memos. This month, the airline has tested free food on Chicago-Honolulu flights. You'll be shocked to know passengers like it. The trial is expanding to other long-haul domestic routes, according to an internal communique. Yum. pic.twitter.com/OU1jI8KxZW
— Brian Sumers (@BrianSumers) February 20, 2020
Airlines' Disappearing Food Act
All of these flights are typically at least 7 1/2 hours. The flight from Newark to Honolulu clocks in at over 11 hours. That's a long time to fly with just small bags of snacks.
So we're not sure United – or any airline – should be applauded for deciding to serve something substantial to paying customers. Airlines cut free meals for economy passengers as a cost-cutting measure, selling sandwiches and snack boxes onboard instead.
But as airline competition has heated up. They've found new ways of making record amounts of money. And slowly, carriers have chipped away at this trend.
Delta started feeding economy passengers on transcontinental flights – like from New York City (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) – back in 2017. Their competitors eventually followed suit.
Delta recently upgraded economy meal options on many international long-haul flights, giving passengers a welcome cocktail, a choice of appetizers, and even fancier plates and cutlery.
It's a shame it's so notable that United will give economy passengers something more to eat than nuts or pretzels on a 10-plus hour flight. Still, this is a good development.