Delta will bring back free meals on some long US flights

Image 1 of 6

Food could be making a comeback in U.S. economy class, where passengers currently must either bring their own meals, pay for one on board or make do with pretzels and peanuts.

Delta says it will start serving meals to all passengers on 12 long-haul routes over the next several weeks. They have been on Honolulu flights since last August.

Airlines took away free sandwiches and similar fare after an industry downturn during the worldwide financial crisis that began in 2008. Delta dropped meals in economy earlier, in 2001. The carriers have returned to profitability and went on a spree of buying new jets and hiring more employees, but meals have mostly not come back.

Many airlines still give free meals to economy-class travelers on international flights, but they're rare in domestic travel. They've been on Delta's Honolulu flights since last August, and American also gives passengers a sandwich box on some Hawaii flights.

Instead, airlines would offer hungry passengers a slightly more interesting snack, like United Airlines' stroopwafels.

But customers loved the free meals when Atlanta-based Delta tested it on some flights last year, said Allison Ausband, the airline's senior vice president of in-flight service, and Delta Air Lines Inc. can afford a few sandwiches and cheese plates. It had pre-tax income of $13.8 billion in 2015 and 2016, nearly $5 billion more than its nearest rival, American Airlines Group Inc.

Even passengers paying the cheapest "basic economy" fare will get free meals. Options include a honey-maple breakfast sandwich, a turkey combo and a veggie wrap.

Delta said Thursday that it will offer free meals in the main cabin beginning March 1 on flights between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It will expand the service to 10 more cross-country routes on April 24: between JFK and Seattle, San Diego and Phoenix; between Boston and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle; Reagan Washington National Airport-Los Angeles; and between Seattle and Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.