On an evening flight from New York to Oakland recently, a sign at the gate in the JetBlue terminal read "Last Stop for Food." Though I hadn't given dinner much thought, the cutesy reminder got my attention and I quickly began weighing my dining options. Luckily, the JetBlue terminal at JFK has lots of them.
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On the flight, there was no meal, as expected, but snacks were passed out on three separate occasions along with standard beverage service. Still, I noticed my seatmate eyeing my ham and Swiss on a French baguette longingly.
On the way back to New York, this time from San Diego, there was no sign, no warning that the only food available for the next five hours would be cookies and chips. If you're a leisure traveler, you may not know that the majority of the airlines, including some of the majors, no longer offer free meals on domestic flights. The policy of BYO (bring your own or buy your own) isn't a new one, but options vary among the airlines. If you'd like to be prepared for what food (or lack thereof) will be available to you on your next flight, see below for a roundup of what's available on some of the most popular airlines.
If you're flying in business or first class (except on very short flights), or on an international flight, you can usually assume there will be a variety of dining options. However, it's always worth checking ahead.
Tip: Though some airlines do accept credit cards, many require cash and exact change is appreciated.
AirTran does not serve any meals, but offers complimentary coffee, juices, Coca-Cola products and snacks on all flights. Cocktails, beer and wine are $6 on all flights.
American Airlines offers individually packaged snacks for $3 each on U.S. and Canadian flights that are two hours or longer. On flights over three hours within the U.S. or to Mexico or the Caribbean, sandwiches and wraps are also available for $6. "Snack Packs" are available for $4 on American Eagle and AmericanConnection flights in the continental U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Complimentary meals are offered on Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Japan and some Mexico flights longer than four hours within traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner meal windows.
On domestic flights (excluding Hawaii) or flights to Canada, the Caribbean or Latin American resort destinations that last over two hours, Continental serves an appropriate meal and snack on the following timetable:
Breakfast/Snack: 7 a.m. - 9 a.m.
Lunch/Snack: 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Dinner/Snack: 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
If your flight is not during the scheduled breakfast, lunch and dinner hours, a light snack may be offered on flights longer than three hours in economy class. Beverages are always complimentary.
On flights less than 450 miles (about one hour), Delta offers one complimentary snack (no choice). On flights ranging from 450 to 749 miles (about 1 - 1.5 hours), you'll be given a choice of snack. On flights ranging from 750 to 1,024 miles (about 1.5 - 2 hours), you'll be given a choice of snacks as well as a range of other snacks for purchase (prices range from $1 - $3). On flights longer than 1,025 miles (about two hours), you'll have your choice of complimentary snack as well as a menu of meal items ranging in price from $4 to $10.
Complimentary meal service is given on Alaska and Hawaii flights longer than five hours. Complimentary non-alcoholic drinks are offered on all flights, while a $5 or $6 charge applies to all alcoholic beverages in economy class on Delta and Delta Connection flights.
Frontier offers a selection of snacks for $3 on all flights longer than 545 miles. For shorter flights, only beverages are available. Non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary on all flights, while alcoholic drinks are available for $5 each.
JetBlue does not serve full meals on flights, but does serve a variety of complimentary snacks and has standard beverage service. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for $5.
Midwest offers Best Care Cuisine, an in-flight meal purchasing program with food from a local Milwaukee restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner options range from $6 - $11. You can peek at the current menu before you go and decide whether you'd be better off bringing your own. Note that the menu is not available on West Coast departures or on select East Coast departures.
Complimentary warm chocolate chip cookies are served on flights departing after 10 a.m. Non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary, with alcoholic drinks available for $5.
Northwest offers individual snacks for $3 and snack boxes for $5 in coach class on most domestic flights. On most flights to the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, and most of the Caribbean and Mexico, "fresh products" (fruit and cheese, or vegetables with ranch dip) are available for $7. Sandwich and salad meals are available for $10 on select flights to Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico and the Caribbean. To guarantee yourself a meal, you can preorder online at the Northwest Web site at least 13 hours before your flight.
Complimentary meal service is offered in first class and on international flights.
On flights less than 600 miles, Southwest serves peanuts or pretzels. On nonstop flights between 601 and 1,270 miles, the airline offers a packaged snack appropriate to the time of day. Southwest Airlines does not serve sandwiches or meals on any flight. Standard beverage service is offered on all flights, with beer, wine and cocktails available for $4.
Spirit doesn't serve meals, but snacks (muffins, candy, chips) are offered for $2 - $4. Spirit also charges for all drinks, including soft drinks and water ($3). Energy drinks are $2. Alcoholic beverages are $5.
United offers complimentary meals in coach on international flights. In coach class on North American flights (including flights to the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico) of two hours or longer, a complimentary snack is given. On flights over three hours, a variety of SnackBoxes are available for $5. On flights over five hours, you'll also have the option of purchasing a sandwich or salad from the Fresh Food Menu ($7).
On all flights, soft drinks are complimentary, and alcoholic beverages are available for purchase. Once free, cocktail snacks are no longer available on flights shorter than two hours.
US Airways offers an In-Flight Cafe on most flights longer than 3.5 hours, taking off between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. Meals are priced at $7, and a Snack Box is available for $5.
Non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary on all flights, with wine, beer and cocktails available for $5.
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