Air travel in the US has changed over the years. An early sacrifice to the god of profits was the airline meal. Not that airline meals were a celebratory item. How many jokes are there about airline meals? Here is a great history of airline meals. The NYT even had a story about the switch from sandwiches to food for sale back in 2010.
Post 9/11 US airlines went out of the free food business. In 2003 Delta introduced us to the “Food for Purchase” announcement. So the airlines were back in the food business, but this time really as a business. On flights over four hours duration you might get a meal in the US, but don’t bet on it.
Actually, US airlines still do spend money on “food”. This a line item on Form 41 P6 table. However, it is a small item. Let’s show you just how small.
In the table, you see the cost per passenger spent on “food” as listed on the P6 filing. This is not the food they offer to sell. This is snacks and drinks. And of course, the ice – of which (somehow) too much ends up in the small cup that gets splashed with soda and constitutes your “drink”. The data for 2018 is through October.
That an LCC and even a ULCC spend close to nothing is no surprise.
From the data, Alaska is the #1 airline where you are least likely to start chewing your fingers in flight. Not only do they spend the most, but they have also spent more per passenger each year. Hawaiian has the longest average stage lengths, but do bring something to eat, because you might run out of cuticles crossing the Pacific. JetBlue is famous for blue chips, which are either acquired really cheaply or maybe you only get one tiny bag. American, Delta, and United all come in around 65c per passenger in 2018. What does Southwest pay its snack vendors? The airline spent 3c/passenger.
Of course, perspective is crucial. So here’s what airfares have been doing.
Airline “food” was, in 2018, equivalent to 0.13% of the average $350 fare.
Now that’s something to chew on.