Delta Is Bringing Back Free Meals In Economy On Select Transcon Flights

Filed Under: Delta

Between November 1 and December 15, 2016, Delta offered complimentary meals in economy on their flights from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco (and vice versa). As much as I sometimes give Delta a hard time for leading the race to the bottom when it comes to frequent flyer programs, there’s no denying that they run the best operation and offer the best onboard experience of the “big three” U.S. carriers.

So based on the feedback from that trial, Delta said they’d decide whether or not to permanently reinstate free meals on these routes. Well, the results are in, and it looks like free meals will be a permanent feature in economy on select Delta transcon flights.

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Per Points, Miles & Martinis:

Starting March 1, 2017 Delta will be adding complimentary meals in their Main Cabin on Transcontinental flights between New York (JFK) to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

  • Both Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+ customers will be offered one of three meal choices – including a vegetarian option – on both AM and PM flights
  • Customers will be able to request a special meal as they do on all other Delta flights with complimentary meal offerings
  • Flight Fuel will no longer be sold on board Transcon flights, effective March 1
  • Alcohol will continue to be offered for sale on Transcon flights

I can’t yet find a press release about this, though Points, Miles & Martinis has some Delta sources, so I would take it as fact.

Kudos to Delta for investing in the onboard experience in such a way, as Delta will be the only airline to offer complimentary meals in economy on those routes.

I didn’t have the chance to fly with Delta during the trial, though based on what I saw the free meals consisted of things like sandwiches with chips. It looked very similar to what was available through their buy on board menu, rather than being the typical hot TV-style dinner found on many international flights.

I suspect Delta isn’t just introducing this to be nice, but rather because they think the free meals will make people choose them over a competitor, and ultimately will drive a revenue premium. I’m curious if that’s actually going to be the case.

Are you more likely to choose Delta on a transcon route due to them offering free meals?

  1. Ben, I think you’re right on.

    The incremental cost to Delta is minimal but it’ll likely entice the average flyer to pay a premium to choose Delta over a competitor on the same route.

  2. Now that Jeffy isn’t running united, I would be surprised if they don’t start doing this by end of Q2.

  3. Hopefully we see meals back on ALL flights. I’d love to See American roll out the bistro bag coolers again.

  4. I had to pay $9.99 for my turkey sandwich yesterday, hoping I would be on one of the “test” flights. haha. JFK-LAX.

    Sandwich was ok, little small. i’m surprised they gave more snacks than sandwich. either way this is great! Delta is obviously the choice, but flight times aren’t as much as AA for example.

  5. I’m in this game quite late – which airlines were the first to cut meal services in Y (during the recession)?

  6. People are willing to pay rock bottom fares to fly Spirit so i highly doubt “free food” is a motivator for much if any

  7. ^However that would not be the case oftentimes. Especially when it comes down to the choice among these traditional airlines, complimentary meal in Y would definitely give Delta a leg up, like what free checkin luggages have brought to Southwest. Now we only need to see when do United and American follow up.

  8. just checked my itinerary for an early march flight and i can indeed select a special meal. the same categories for international flights currently display.

  9. What amazes me is that Qantas will serve you a (tasty) hot meal on a 1hr flight from Sydney to Melbourne. And alcoholic drinks. WITH a smile.

  10. The frequent but non road warrior folks whom get sent out with no status and possibly whomever is lowest fare will certainly recognize it and probably appreciate it. These are long domestic flights not quite as long as west coast – Hawaii which get meals so it makes sense.

    I still don’t understand how United can serve Honolulu from EWR/ORD/IAD/IAH and not offer anything but BOB and beverages. It almost seems a hardship for passengers, especially as they cannot cater fresh BOB at 100%.

    Oscar said he didn’t want subpar and I think offering something similar, doesnt have to be a hot meal, would make people happy.

    Interesting how Delta really is working to better their onboard product yet devalued SkyMiles so much.

  11. Ummmm, no, these meals aren’t “free”. Delta is paying for them, which means its customers are paying for them….

  12. DL is already getting a revenue premium, something like 8℅ over AA on average.

    They have entered the virtuous spiral: more people are willing to pay more for DL, which allows them to offer more, which makes people willing to pay even more.

  13. Why does Delta continually shit on flyers that utilize their largest hub, ATL? God forbid they bring the meal service to ATL-SFO, LAX or SEA.

  14. “I didn’t have the chance to fly with Delta during the trial, though based on what I saw the free meals consisted of things like sandwiches with chips. It looked very similar to what was available through their buy on board menu, rather than being the typical hot TV-style dinner found on many international flights”

    Usually the BOB sandwiches/cheese boards are better than hot meals in int’l Y. So I see this as a good thing…

  15. Sad that we are celebrating the very limited return of what appears to be a “bistro bag”. Of course, not a great deal of options for anything else since everyone ripped out the ovens from their coach galleys years ago.

  16. +1 Bob, a sandwich is just so boring.

    Even hotdogs, Easy Mac, instant noodles, beans and minute rice would be more enticing … the point is a real meal is HOT.

  17. Yeah only problem is UA and AA will soon match and so any competitive advantage will be gone and cost will have gone up.

    By the way, has anyone tried Julian Bersotti’s new F meals aboard AA? Pretty tasty stuff!

  18. I certainly hope people don’t choose their airline/route/schedule for a processed, tasteless, nutritionally poor ‘meal’. The food served in economy shouldn’t even be considered edible by the average person. I sincerely hope nobody buys into this garbage, literally.

  19. We have all been shown how having have no meal is worse than havving an airline meal.

    Bravo Delta for being a leader once again restoring some humanity in travel.

  20. @Matt You do realized Delta headquarter is Falcons territory. I don’t think it’s their intention to make Pats fans any more comfortable than they need to be. LOL.

  21. Prediction: They are getting to ready to rollout Basic Economy on these routes and meals won’t be included in E fares (but will be available for purchase). I’m guessing this is less about differentiating between carriers than it is about differentiating between E and MC (similar to the wraps currently offered in C+ on these routes).

  22. @Jacob: Once BE passengers are on board, it would be quite difficult and costly to identify/distinguish them from other normal Economy passengers.

  23. They have the manifest on their devices. I can see Delta marking basic economy pax with a big red X so FA’s know not to serve them the meal. That’ll be $9.99 please.

  24. From a travel advisor’s point of view, Delta is among the easiest legacy carriers to work with, whether for help changing clients’ flights, seat assignments, upgrades and more. Their customer friendly nature is once again on show with this latest move. I won’t be surprised to see more people switch allegiance to Delta, particularly if onboard experiences are a key factor in their decision making.

  25. I’m not sure United will follow.
    They served nothing other than 1 single tiny bag of smack mix on HNL – EWR. Totally ridiculous

  26. I wonder how long this lasts. I remember when Continental had “meals at mealtimes” in economy when other airlines moved to buy on board – eventually Continental joined the buy on board pack.

    I’m not sure American will match. On one hand, adding free meals goes against Doug Parker’s LCC mindset. On the other hand, he added free meals on DFW-Hawaii flights after Delta added them on ATL/MSP/JFK-Hawaii.

  27. The attorney general in Guam was going after United for not offering food on the “international” flight between Guam, a US territory, and Honolulu. It’s something like 7-8 hours. I believe United was finally forced into doing a meal.

  28. Yes, people are going to choose Delta because of the meals. And because their planes are cleaner. And because their people are frendlier. And because their baggage delivery is fast. And …

    It’s called customer experience. It’s made up of tons of little things, which taken individually any short-sighted accountant will recommend they be cut.

    The fact that DL is adding food on routes based on flight length, and not on whether they have competition in them, should give you a clue. That’s leadership.

    BTW do you realize that people are already choosing DL over its competitors, and DL yields are almost 10% higher as a result? And they are also growing faster? Yes, people pay for a better experience. Duh!

    And people (outside of bloggers) don’t care enough about the frequent flyer program: DL’s devaluation has not hurt them one bit.

  29. Of the “big three”, Delta is the one that has almost all planes with seat-back screens, a big plus, especially for travel with family. They understand travelers better.

  30. Hey, if you speak to the agent I did tonight in Manilla, you actually now can have a private chef in coach on Delta to Europe! (my daughter, while not picky doesn’t eat chicken, which we all know is the ONE protein 100% of airlines serve.) On an 11 hour flight, food is a bit important with a tween. I am totally willing to pay for reasonable food, or bring it, but last year on a flight home from Mexico there was no way to bring it on, and they ran out of food in the 4th row of coach. It was not pretty. I paid $10 bucks for a soggy sandwich and felt lucky. At any rate, it was clear the rep had never flown and was putting me on hold for a simple question. But when he told me, “don’t worry about the chicken, on that flight, you will have a private chef and you can tell the flight attendant what you need.” Clearly, I called back and asked to speak to a rep in the states. If you offshore-at least train your reps. DL is improving. Perhaps they are serving food to keep the employees happy? It’s tough being on a long flight with passengers who are hangry. DL is improving in many ways, but they need to tell people not to make up stories when they don’t know the answer. I can only imagine a rookie flyer asking for the private chef.

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