by Sarah J.F. Braley | December 01, 2004

Time was, you never had to think about whether you were going to get a little snack or a hot meal on a plane. Food service was de rigueur, whether you were flying 150 miles or 1,500.
In the era of airline belt-tightening, the cost of a ticket no longer guarantees free food, but that might not be such a bad thing. The following is a roundup of the tasty options the major and low-fare airlines are offering in coach on domestic trips.

Three Stand Alone
American, Continental and Frontier airlines are now the only carriers that continue “traditional” food service. On American, free meals are included on flights longer than four hours; less than that, bring your own.
    Continental serves beverages only on flights of less than two hours. Snacks are served on two-hour flights and full meals on flights of three hours or more.
    Frontier offers wraps (Thai chicken is one of the choices) and snack packs on flights longer than 2.5 hours; chips or pretzels on shorter trips.
JetBlueAirlines doesn’t serve full meals, but the snacks Terra Blues potato chips, Karen’s Biscotti, smoked almonds, Frito-Lay Munchies Snack Mix and animals crackers are free. On transcontinental flights, Le Petit Snack cheese and crackers, a cookie and hard candy also is served.
    On the flip side, Southwest Airlines only passes out packets of peanuts and pretzels no matter how long the flight. For more substantial fare, bring it on board.

Buy On Board
All the other lines offer snack boxes and hot meals for a fee.
    America West. The In-flight Café menu (developed by the old standby airline food service, LSG Sky Chefs) is offered on flights longer than 3.5 hours and departing between 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Choices cost from $2 for snacks and $5 for snack boxes to $7 for full meals. Breakfast items, for example, might include egg and ham on a biscuit or a muffin and fruit. A warm roast beef and fontina cheese meal has been a choice for lunch/dinner.
    Delta Air Lines. Prices range from $2 to $8 for selections on flights longer than 3.5 hours. The food is provided by Delta’s Savorings menu and from the Atlanta Bread Co. Recent menu items included grilled chicken Caesar salad and a bagel sandwich with turkey and cheese; snacks are from Nabisco, Frito Lay and the Endangered Species Chocolate company.
    Northwest Airlines. On certain routes (a listing is available at, breakfast, lunch and dinner selections from Sky Chefs’ In-flight Café are offered at prices from $5 to $10.
    Song. Delta’s low-fare carrier serves a plethora of items, priced from $2 to $8. Recent offerings included a breakfast sandwich, Caribbean chicken salad and finger food such as fruit and cheese, popcorn, M&Ms, Pringles and Twizzlers. For kids, Earth’s Best baby food is on the menu, along with Tyke Bites a snack box containing Nabisco Teddy Grahams, Fruit Leathers, Goldfish and Earth’s Best applesauce.
    United Airlines. On flights lasting five hours or longer, the food is free. On United (and United’s low-fare carrier, Ted), flights of 3.5 to five hours offer “restaurant-quality meals” for $7 to $10, provided by establishments such as Bennigan’s, Hard Rock Café, Eli’s Cheesecake Co. and Au Bon Pain.
On Ted flights lasting 2.5 to 3.5 hours, four or five types of TedSelect Snackboxes ($5) are available, filled with a variety of fun foods such as Terra chips, beef jerky and granola bars.
    US Airways. In-flight Café selections are offered on flights of more than two hours. The snack box is $5; breakfast costs $7, and lunch/dinner items are $10. In October, the menu included cobb salad with turkey and a zinfandel vinaigrette, turkey pastrami on a pretzel roll and a smoked chicken salad sandwich.