United Brings Back Free Snacks in Coach

Complimentary stroopwafel. Source: Terry Halsey, United Airlines

Complimentary stroopwafel. Source: Terry Halsey, United Airlines

  • Dutch dish among offerings in small comeback for airline food
  • Perk to resume on short flights in Americas in February

For the first time in a decade, United Airlines will offer free snacks to budget travelers on short routes in the Americas -- a partial reversal of efforts to cut service for passengers buying the cheapest tickets.

Starting early next year, customers in economy class departing before 9:45 a.m. will get a stroopwafel, a Dutch confection filled with caramel. Fliers leaving later would get savory nibbles, such as an Asian-style or Cajun pretzel mix.

The changes announced Wednesday respond to travelers’ demand for free snacks (for the price of a several-hundred-dollar plane ticket), requests by flight attendants pushing to offer better service and a focus on consumers championed by new Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz.

“We heard loud and clear from customers that better coffee and complimentary snacks will improve the in-flight experience,” said spokesman Rahsaan Johnson, citing United’s recent change to serving the Illy Italian coffee brand on flights and its airport locations.

The stroopwafel “pairs perfectly with coffee or tea,” United said in a statement. The snacks will be restored on short-distance routes in North America and Latin America beginning in February.

Free Meals

United ended free snacks for economy passengers in 2006, while Continental Airlines stopped in 2010, Johnson said. That was the year that former United parent UAL Corp. and Continental merged to create the current United Continental Holdings Inc. United still offers full, free meals on international routes.

Coach customers have grown accustomed to having perks removed -- not added -- across the industry in recent years. United led the way with bag-check charges in 2008, instituting a fee for a second piece of luggage, and that levy is now standard among most major carriers.

Most carriers also have introduced “slim-line” seats in coach, which offer less padding than traditional seats, to squeeze in an extra row. Airlines generally say the seats are no less comfortable.

Delta Air Lines Inc. offers complimentary peanuts, pretzels and biscuit-style cookies in coach, while Southwest Airlines Co. offers pretzels and peanuts on every flight, according to the companies’ websites. American Airlines Group Inc. currently doesn’t offer free snacks, a spokesman said.

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