Each week, my Meal of the Week feature examines an airline meal from my travels over the years. This may be a meal from earlier in the week or it may be a meal served over a decade ago.
Remember when Alaska Airlines used to serve free meals in economy class? It wasn’t that long ago.
With the exception of Hawaiian Airlines, Continental Airlines was the last U.S. airlines to cut free meals in domestic economy class. But Alaska Airlines wasn’t far behind, still offering free meals onboard years after American, Delta, Northwest United, and US Airways had cut complimentary meals.
My first flight on Alaska Airlines was in September 1987 from Burbank to Seattle, which also happened to be my very first flight. But I slept through that flight and the return. My real “first” flight on Alaska was from Los Angeles to Washington National in 2005, an exception route to the DCA perimeter rule that Alaska held exclusively for many years.
I was on my way to DC to begin my first Capitol Hill internship (my recent reflections on the Willard InterContinental reminded me of this flight). We chose Alaska not for reasons of loyalty or the free meal, but because it was nonstop and National sure beats Dulles, especially if you want to use Metro into the District.
Anyway, we flew economy class and a meal was served after takeoff. It included a warm chicken sandwich on a white roll, potato salad, and a white chocolate chip cookie. Also note the prayer card, which Alaska distributed with all meals until 2012.
Prior to landing another drink service commenced with honey mustard sesame sticks.
I think this meal is a reminder of the “can’t win” position airlines felt themselves in. On the one hand, customers hated the highly-processed, unhealthy, poor-quality meals that were served. On the other hand, customers cried foul when these free meals were cut.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather buy a nice cheese plate or salad (or hamburger…) than something like the meal above. Then again, it was nice to get something substantial for free onboard.
Complimentary meals are back on select American, Delta, and United flights. Will Alaska also bring back free meals to its premium transcontinental flights between New York and the west coast? If so, will we go back to the Alaska sandwiches of yesteryear?
I would disagree that airlines were/are in a “can’t win” position on meals. If you look at the healthy(ier?) options available for purchase today – mainly in the form of hummus or “protein boxes” – you see it’s absolutely possible for airlines to provide a meal service that’s fairly substantial but lacks the highly processed foodstuffs of yesteryear. If they can offer them as buy-on-board, then they can surely provide them as part of the overall ticket cost like they once did. Of course, given today’s (U)LCC market, I’m unsure anyone would be willing to pay the extra cost for such a meal, but I’d argue it’s disingenuous to claim they “can’t” when it’s simply they “won’t”.
One of the reasons I love flying Japanese airlines is their healthy, light Japanese meals (even in economy class) which I find much more appetizing then what I can get on North American carriers. I generally will skip economy class food (even on a 12+ hour flight) but will always take the ANA Japanese option.
… Or a hamburger… 🙂
This post, we got a twofer:
“(or hamburger…) then a something like the meal above”
As always, happy to proof these before posting. Love your posts, but the typos are just too much!!