American Airlines Ends Free Coach Meals

Times Staff Writer

For most American Airlines' coach passengers, there will no longer be a free lunch-or breakfast or dinner.

The nation's largest air carrier today said it will eliminate complimentary food service for coach customers on domestic flights beginning Feb. 1 in a cost-cutting move that will save the struggling airline $30 million annually. Instead, Dallas-based American will start selling boxed meals and sandwiches priced between $3 to $5 on domestic flights longer than three hours.

First Class passengers will still receive free meals but those on non-transcontinental will no longer be able to place orders for vegetarian or other specially prepared meals. Free, non-alcoholic beverages will still be served on all domestic flights.

Airline spokesman Tim Wagner said dropping free food for domestic coach passengers was made in light of competitive and financial pressures facing the entire industry. Several other major carriers have either dramatically reduced or dropped complimentary meals on many domestic flights, he said.

"Currently, we are facing cost issues and historical high fuel prices as well as a market dynamic of low fares," Wagner said. "We basically have to look at everything" to boost profits and lower costs.

American and other major airlines have been gradually cutting back on their complimentary meal service for several years as they faced growing competition from low-cost rivals, such as Southwest, where free food is limited to peanuts or light snacks. After air traffic shrank dramatically in the wake of 9-11, airlines cut back on free meal service even more dramatically.

Even now, American Airlines coach passengers on domestic flights shorter than three hours are served only beverages and a light snack. Those on many longer domestic flights receive what is known as a complimentary "Bistro Bag" meal, which is primarily a sandwich and chips, Wagner said.

But after Feb. 1, the free Bistro Bag will be gone and coach passengers will have to pay $3 for a snack box, which will contain, among other items, bagel chips and cream-cheese spread on morning flights and salami slices and Oreo cookies on afternoon and early evening trips.

On some longer coast-to-coast flights and those to Hawaii, coach passengers will be able to buy a sandwich or wrap for $5.

"Selling food on-board is not a new concept in our industry, but we went to great lengths to test various food options with our customers," said Lauri Curtis, Vice President-Onboard Service, in a statement. "Based on our customer research and feedback from our flight attendants, we believe our customers will appreciate this new option with some very attractive price points."

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