Memo to Airlines: What I Want Instead of Free Food


By Robert McGarvey

The Delta announcement made me shiver in despair.  Over the next few weeks, Delta has said, free meals will return to a dozen cross-country flights.

Options include a breakfast sandwich, and later in the day, a veggie wrap and a turkey combo.

Yum.  Not.

American and United are said – in authentic monkey see, monkey do mode – to be rushing to implement similar.

Here’s my vote: just stop.  

A principle pounded into the heads of all young journalists is that there is no free lunch (a quote attributed to A. J. Liebling) and the idea is that freebies come with strings attached.  

They always do and this is certainly true of any “free” airline meal in coach.

What are we not getting instead of this free lunch?

There are many, many things I would much prefer over a tasteless tray of cheap food, put in front of me mainly to distract me from the sheer misery of flying in overcrowded coach.  

Airlines stopped dishing out free meals not long after September 11, 2001 and at first of course we all grumbled. Probably I did too.  We are creatures of our habits and, initially, airport vendors weren’t set up to fill the demand.  Now they are and, for maybe $10, it’s easy to grab a good salad, even a decent sandwich to carry onboard, to eat when you are hungry (not when it is convenient for the cabin crew to serve you).

It was at least 10 years ago that I stopped eating front of the plane food too, even though it is tastier than the stuff in coach – but it generally is very carb centric and that style of eating no longer suited me. So, mainly, even up front I did not eat or, if I did, I brought my own.

Why would I want to return to eating airline food – and in particular coach food?

I don’t.

Do you?

Most frequent fliers long ago made their own accommodations when it came to eating on longer flights.  We don’t need airplane food (a substance, I am convinced, must be served in Dante’s circles of hell, at least in the really, really bad ones).

But there are many, many – useful – things I would like from the carriers. Why don’t they address these instead? Such as:

  • Fast, reliable WiFi at no charge.  Honestly, fast WiFi with a charge would be preferable – even acceptable – over today’s slow, unreliable WIFi. But free – as increasingly is the hotel norm – would be better. If the service was fast and reliable which, too often, it isn’t.  Airlines have us here, too. In a hotel I generally ignore the property’s WiFi and create my own hotspot – faster, much more secure.  If I could do similar at 30,000 feet I would but I can’t.  I am at the mercy of the carriers and their vendors and – so far – there is a stubborn refusal to accept that WiFi is as important to many passengers as a working toilet. Will airlines ever understand this? No time soon.  And note – I am not asking for WiFi good enough to stream Netflix or make Skype video calls.  All I want is speed adequate for standard Web surfing (mainly newspaper and company sites in my case) and email.  Give me that and you can keep the breakfast sandwich.
  • More space in coach.  Lately, it seems, we get quite the contrary, with ever more bodies jammed into the back of the plane and airline designers seem forever to be tinkering with ways to get even more of us onboard (such as smaller lavatories).  I remember – do you? – when the middle seat almost always was empty.  Those were better days and if my middle seat is vacant, please feel free to keep the turkey combo.
  • More – bigger – overhead compartments.  Instead of conniving ways to force some passengers not to use overhead compartments, airlines should be deploying its space experts in a hunt for ways to offer more spacious overhead compartments. Almost all of us really want our stuff above us. Keep the veggie wrap and give me more overhead space.

Right there are three things I would much prefer over a tray of “free” food.

How about you? Comments are open.

1 thought on “Memo to Airlines: What I Want Instead of Free Food”

  1. Robert, I am with you, and I can’t see the screen for the tears of laughter. When I was young I would travel by train with my mother and grandmother from Ohio to New York. There was always a basket of the best food; we ate when we were hungry. I have carried that throughout my life. Now I am too old and too cranky to ride in the back of the plane, but I still carry my own food. Yes, Delta, keep your cheap food.

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