Airplane food is coming back. American Airlines will once again offer complimentary meals in its main cabin on select cross-country flights, including those between Los Angeles and New York.
The airline's Tuesday announcement followed one by Delta Air Lines a month ago that this spring, Delta would begin offering free meals to economy-class passengers on a dozen routes in its major domestic markets.
Airlines stopped offering complimentary meals to economy passengers on most domestic flights after taking a financial hit in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Great Recession. Breakfast sandwiches and pasta dinners in economy became a luxury reserved for international travelers and for passengers flying to Hawaii.
In recent years, though, the airlines have bounced back. American Airlines posted a profit of nearly $2.7 billion last year.
Starting May 1, American will be using some of that cash to offer meals to passengers flying between New York and Los Angeles and between New York and San Francisco. On the menu: a continental breakfast or a boxed meal with a sandwich wrap, kettle chips and dessert, depending on the time of day. There will also be a vegetarian and fruit-and-cheese plate option, the company said.
"Adding complimentary meals in our Main Cabin gives some of our best customers one more reason to choose [us]," spokeswoman Sunny Rodriguez said in an emailed statement.
In addition to Delta and United Airlines (which has not announced any plan to reintroduce complimentary meals), American faces competition from JetBlue, which now offers its premium Mint service on transcontinental flights, and Alaska Airlines, which expanded its California and West Coast footprint with the acquisition of Virgin America last year.
The three major carriers have also been losing passengers to ultra low-cost, no-frills airlines such as Frontier and Spirit, prompting them to introduce "basic economy" fares that don't allow changes, cancellations or upgrades and often impose extra limits on seat choices and carry-on luggage.