Read Your Indulgence

United is bringing back food, beer and wine. Here’s what is (and isn’t) on the pandemic menu at US airlines

November 9, 2020

by Dawn Gilbertson

Flying during the pandemic has been a bring-your-own food and (soft) drinks affair when traveling in economy.

Airlines ditched or significantly scaled back in-flight food and drink service shortly after the coronavirus crisis began to reduce contact between flight attendants and travelers and the risk of spreading the contagious virus.

The lack of snacks, meals and drinks wasn’t a big deal in the beginning because so few travelers were boarding planes, but as travel slowly starts to rebound, some travelers are wondering when in-flight service will resume, especially on longer flights. (Others wish airlines wouldn’t serve a thing, including water, during the pandemic because it encourages passengers to take their masks off.)

Eight months into the pandemic, United Airlines is tiptoeing back in.

Beginning Nov. 17, the Chicago-based airline plans to start selling food, beer and wine in economy on select flights from its Denver hub. The test will include passengers on flights from Denver to eight destinations: Boston; Chicago; Honolulu; Houston; Los Angeles; Newark, New Jersey; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.

United is currently only offering economy passengers on domestic flights 2 hours and 20 minutes or longer a complimentary snack bag with two snacks and a small bottle of water. Passengers on all flights receive complimentary soft drinks. No alcohol is available in regular economy and that will remain the case except on the select flights out of Denver.

The decision to start selling food, beer and wine again stems from feedback from customers that in-flight service is “an important part of their travel experience,” United spokeswoman Christine Salamone said.

The airline worked with the Cleveland Clinic to develop a “touchless” digital payment system when buying the snacks and drinks. Travelers who want to buy food and drinks will have to store their credit card information in United’s mobile app or on its website so there won’t be exchange of credit cards in flight.

Alaska Airlines heard similar feedback from passengers, so it started selling fruit-and-cheese platters Nov. 4. on select flights. Platters are $8 and must be preordered on the airline’s mobile app or website at least 20 hours before the flight with a stored credit card.

Here’s what other US airlines are serving in economy during the pandemic

Allegiant Airlines: Food, soft drinks and alcohol for sale via the airline’s mobile app.

Alaska Airlines: Complimentary soft drinks, water and (on morning flights) coffee and tea. On flights over about three hours, passengers have the option to preorder an $8 fruit-and-cheese platter.

American Airlines: Complimentary water and snack on flights between 2 ½ hours and 4 ½ hours. Passengers on longer flights receive Biscoff cookies or pretzels plus water and canned soft drinks or juice.

Delta Air Lines: Complimentary prepackaged snack and bottled water.

Frontier Airlines: Bottled water for sale.

Hawaiian Airlines: Complimentary sandwich and select soft drinks on most flights between the mainland and Hawaii. Passengers on flights between New York and Boston and Hawaii are also served coffee and tea and can purchase alcoholic beverages.

JetBlue Airways: Complimentary snacks and a limited lineup of soft drinks plus select prepackaged snack boxes for sale.

Southwest Airlines: Complimentary water and snacks on flights over 250 miles. No service on shorter flights. Passengers on Hawaii flights receive water and snacks.

Spirit Airlines: Snacks, soft drinks and alcohol for sale.