Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

Delta Tests Free Coach Meals on Cross-Country Routes

Delta Air Lines Inc. passengers flying coach between New York City and California may get a treat rarely seen on U.S. flights since 2010: free meals.

The airline is testing the complimentary food on flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are some of the industry’s most competitive and most profitable routes. The Atlanta-based company will decide on a plan after evaluating the results, spokeswoman Catherine Sirna said in an e-mail Wednesday.

“I think Delta’s just trying to see if that helps distinguish the airline, but also if it justifies in the customer’s mind paying slightly higher fares,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group. Delta often tries to command a higher fare than competitors by offering better service, he said.

Airlines have been adding back some perks coach passengers used to expect in decades past. Continental Airlines was the last of the biggest U.S. carriers to serve free meals in the main cabin, stopping six years ago. With fierce competition for lucrative transcontinental and international travelers, Delta and American earlier this year restored complimentary meals in coach on their longest routes to Hawaii. Those carriers already had free meals on long-haul international routes.

Coach passengers on the Delta flights will have the option of a honey maple breakfast sandwich or breakfast medley, while afternoon fliers will choose between a mesquite smoked turkey combo or whole grain veggie wrap.

Delta travelers on short-distance U.S. routes are unlikely to see free meals in coach, Harteveldt said. Delta’s tests were earlier reported on industry blogs.

(Corrects fourth paragraph to say Continental was the last of the biggest airlines to offer free meals in main cabin, in a story published Dec. 7.)
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