Wow: Delta Expands Free Meals To More Domestic Flights

Filed Under: Delta

Wow, Delta is bringing back the good old days of free inedible meals in domestic economy. 😉

Last week I wrote about how Delta is rolling out free meals in economy between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco as of March 1, 2017. This follows tests that they ran between November 1 and December 15 of last year. I guess the feedback was positive (who doesn’t like free food, though?), so they’re looking to make it permanent.

However, this new expanded meal service won’t just be limited to the typical “premium” transcontinental flights.

In addition to the above routes, as of April 24, 2017, Delta will offer complimentary meals in economy on the following transcon routes out of Seattle, New York, Boston, and Washington DC:


Wow! Here’s an example of what you can expect to be fed, based on Delta’s press release:

Delta’s new meal program will feature a variety of options for customers depending on the time of day of their flight. In the morning, customers will have the option to choose between a Honey Maple Breakfast Sandwich, Luvo Breakfast Medley or fruit and cheese plate. During the day, customers will be able to select from a Mesquite-Smoked Turkey Combo, Luvo Mediterranean Whole Grain Veggie Wrap, or fruit and cheese plate.  For overnight flights, customers will be offered a breakfast bar during the pre-arrival beverage service.


Comfort+ passengers will also receive a selection from a pre-arrival snack basket and complimentary drinks, in addition to a mid-service greek frozen yogurt bar on flights between JFK and LAX/SFO.

Personally I’m surprised to see Delta bring back free meals on so many domestic routes. I was surprised to see it on the flights between JFK and LAX/SFO, but could make sense of it given that it’s a premium and highly competitive route.

However, in this case Delta is adding meals in significantly less competitive markets, many where they only have one competitor.

Sure, it’s nice for airlines to add services, though I’m not totally sure I get their thought process here. Does Delta think people will select them over a competitor because of this? Do they think they can command a price premium for offering free meals? Won’t the inconsistency confuse people, given that free meals won’t be available on all transcons? And if American and United match (as we’ve seen the legacy carriers do over and over), won’t they all just come out behind?


View from the Wing and Live and Let’s Fly recently had an interesting discussion about this — Gary argued that free meals in economy can contribute to airline profits, while Matthew argued that they cut profits. My perspective on this is the same as Matthew’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to see airlines improving service, but am surprised to see this, and wonder what they’re trying to get out of this.

Are you surprised to see Delta add free meals on more routes in economy? Do you think American and United will match?

  1. Wow, yeah this is surprising. Especially with the less competitive routes. I miss the old days when it was standard, but maybe it will make a come back!

  2. Reply to keitherson: Because you’re not flying on a 20 year old MD-80 every flight earning miles that aren’t worth much. Otherwise, Delta is the best.

  3. What stands out to me are the free meals on flights to Florida. The other cities make sense as all have 2+ other airlines competing and are big affluent business heavy cities. But FLL and MCO, don’t really get it except that those are some of the longest domestic flights within the contiguous 48

  4. @AI: I read somewhere else that yes, DL will provide any special meal requested on these routes, including KSML

  5. @keitherson – Probably because Skyteam is the worst of the three global alliances. Oneworld and even Star have top notch airlines globally and some people enjoy the perks of elite status.

    American also still has a transcon first class product (and international first) while Delta does not. But hey to each their own. United has a superior route network to Asia while Delta has pretty much given up.

    @John- funny you mention MD80s because Delta has the oldest fleet of the big three lol. AA has basically retired all but a handful of MD80s which will all be gone by 2019 while Delta continues to buy old planes and cancelled their 787 order.

  6. Dan, deltas main competitor for Florida out of Seattle is Alaska. Only other airline with direct flights to Orlando and fll. Trying to squeeze them a little more by grabbing more customers who would like free food in the way to vacation.

  7. @Tony: You got it! That was my point. I love Delta, but would prefer to not be flying on those all of the time.

  8. If by “Wow” you mean “Meh”. Then sure.

    I think meals – free or otherwise is just about at the bottom of the list of things I care about in factors that cause me to buy a airline tickets. Just below “does the plane have IFE” and just above “what color is the paint”

  9. Reading the press release, I think it makes a little bit more sense. “This enhancement comes on the heels of a test conducted late last year, where the airline closely monitored CUSTOMER SATISFACTION SCORES to determine the impact on the in-flight experience and SAW A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE as a result of the test.” “When we tested this concept, our customers loved it and appreciated it so we are implementing in our MOST STRATEGIC MARKETS.” Because getting a free meal in domestic economy is so unprecedented today, people are thrown off when it happens. Their impression of the airline is drastically altered and they may even go so far as to have a conversation with other passengers seated around them or post on social media about Delta. Its not very often that people (non av-geeks) talk about or post about a US airline brand in a positive manner on their own will. Huge boost to the brand’s equity which in turn increases bookings, fares, and more for Delta. Doing this in “strategic markets” (i.e. where some of their most affluent, sophisticated, demanding clientele live) will certainly do a lot for the brand.

  10. Kudos to DL for the nostalgia to better flying days, it really does matter to a lot of travelers to get a meal on a plane (I’m not one of them though). And at a time when airfares are so low! In the 80s a typical transcon fare for me was just under $400, today I don’t want to pay much over $300 for the same route.

  11. why people fly UA or AA ? earning valuable miles that can actually redeem for 3-class F. DL doesn’t even offer any 3-class F redemptions on any partners, at any cost, period.

    On UA, i know on ANY lower48 flight, I can get ABSOLUTE last seat availability for 25000 miles, no questions asked. Try that on DL.

  12. In the race towards the bottom, Delta pulls up sharply while it’s competition are not nimble and will crash on the canyon floor.

  13. I actually love this and think it’s great to see an airline giving back/caring for its customers.

    HOWEVER, the devil’s advocate in me is thinking this may not be so smart from a labor point of view. More work for the flight attendants means they will remember this move when the next unionizing push comes around…

  14. @chase – and if DL continues to dominate the domestic market they’ll also remember that. Would a FA rather work a little more on DL and serve meals or work for an unfulfilling employer like UA or AA? My opinion of how FAs like their jobs has been formed by flying each of the big 3 US carriers…I rarely meet a smiling AA or UA FA while it seems the other way around on DL. And I don’t know about you but I prefer to like where I work. If my workload is heavy but I like it I’m more likely to stay than at somewhere with less load but less fulfillment.

  15. First, I do want to thank DL for attempting to bring some scrap of civility back on the aircraft. I’m not a fan of the race to the bottom. I *am* willing to pay more for a better product. Domestically, B6 & DL get our office’s travel dollars because they do generally provide a better level of service than the others, especially DL during IRROPs.

    Note that none of DL’s hubs (ie: ATL, MSP, DTW) are included in the list… which sucks for me as it seems like every flight I take ends up going through one of DL’s hubs. LAX-NYC is one of those mystical routes that gets all of the attention. MIA-ATL-LAX or TPA-MSP-LAX gets zip, despite being a longer route, often more expensive than flying to Europe. DL really should just do a blanket “flights greater than X hours” statement on the meal service. It’s the way it used to be done.

    DL’s Comfort+ seats should get this for ANY flight > 3 hours. The C+ fares aren’t justified when you sit in the exact same seat as everyone else and get virtually nothing more than an inch of extra legroom and one bump up the convoluted boarding order of DL.

    Re: the MD 88/90s, other than the lack of IFE and slower internet, I’d much rather be on one of these than the newer aircraft. DL’s done a good job of keeping them up. On the last DL Mad Dog I was on, all of the seats were newer and in good repair, all lighting was LED including reading lamps, everything appeared new overall, minus the dated intercom panel at the front of the aircraft. The biggest thing I like about the MD is the 3-2 config in the rear *AND* it’s a very quiet aircraft if you’re sitting up front. Not sure what it’s like in the back, but up front it’s heavenly.

  16. I think it’s about marketing and brand perception. Even if the other airlines match, if DL by doing this can create the perception among consumers that they are a premium or innovative brand, that’s a win for them.

    I remember when AA introduced free food for EXPs in economy. Yes, the food is not great, but I cannot count how many times I’ve run late and appreciated knowing that at least I can get a sandwich and drink on-board if I don’t have time to buy something at the airport beforehand. At the end of the day, I’d say that the cost to the airline is largely outweighed by the improved perception I have of the overall experience, even though the actual thing itself is not actually that great.

  17. Lucky, Don’t complain about free meals! Why are Delta’s profits that important to you. Not saying you’re crazy or anything, I see where you’re coming from, but if you complain, they’ll take the food away. As a regular customer on the SEA-BOS flight, I would die without food, and I really don’t like having to buy sandwiches and snack boxes!

  18. Common factor on the less-competitive routes is that some of the competition appears to be (I didn’t check all of them) Alaska and/or JetBlue. I suspect this, more than wanting to up their game vs. AA or UA, is the driving factor.

  19. That is great. Constantly hearing of ways Delta keeps improving. In answer to your question, maybe American. United just keeps cutting services so I cannot see them adding anything. Sad to see my hometown airline going that way.

  20. Back in the days when airlines were regulated, they couldn’t compete on price so they competed on service. Most of those service offerings — like meals — were gradually eliminated once airlines had to start competing on price. The domestic airline business has effectively re-regulated itself through mergers and bankruptcies, which is taking price competition out of the market again. For a time frequent flyer programs were a good competitive tool, but credit cards have largely destroyed the value of those programs to people who really fly (and most would agree that Delta has the worst program of all). To me, it looks like Delta is just pivoting back to its 1972 playbook and enhancing service offerings to compete.

  21. Would love to see more open/coordinated debates between the blog leaders of Boarding Area! It’s nice to read different perspectives on the issue.

  22. Ben,

    Any updates on the “Terminal Scramble” at LAX? All the “Delta One” amenities in Terminal 5 are now scrapped if they are moving to T2/3?

  23. Honestly having food in a Boston-Los Angeles route is just amazing. Delta is definitely working very hard in customer experience. Starting with the cabin updates to the old fleet. I honestly rather fly in a Delta 757 refurbished cabin (new seats, led lights, new lavatories, personal entertainment FOR FREE!) Than a United 737 where they offer only streaming to your device. I have flown in AA, DL and UA and trust me Delta wins!! They are working so hard but in the good direction in terms of customer experience. If you had a bad experience in the past just give them a 2nd chance.

    +10000 to the meals thing.

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