American Bringing Back Free Meals in Coach

Today’s announcement that American is bringing back free meals in coach on some flights offers a glimmer of hope that flying is becoming more hospitable, or is at least regaining some of its former hospitability.

Beginning on May 1, American’s flights between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco will feature free Main Cabin meals, either a continental breakfast or a sandwich wrap with chips and a sweet. Other options include vegetarian and fruit plates.

American’s move comes two months after Delta started serving free coach meals on its flights between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco. And beginning in April, Delta will expand the service to include select coast-to-coast flights to and from Seattle, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. In all, free coach meals will be served on flights in 12 long-haul markets.

It’s been more than a decade since free coach meals were the industry standard, so even these limited offerings are noteworthy. Might we be seeing an industry-wide trend toward improving the coach-class experience?

According to American’s news release, “Some of our best customers fly our trans-continental routes and we want to give them a top-notch onboard experience. Providing complimentary meals in the Main Cabin is yet another step we’re taking to enhance our service in this competitive market.”

Reading between those lines, it’s clear that this is a route-specific initiative, designed to shore up American’s position in the particularly competitive transcon market. In other words: Don’t expect to see free coach meals on other American domestic flights anytime soon.

What we are likely to see is a very targeted response from United, which is also heavily invested in the transcon market, with its upgraded Premium Service. Elsewhere, the only coach freebies will be stroopwafels and soft drinks.

Reader Reality Check

What should the airlines do to improve the coach-class experience?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.


  1. Ulev says

    Sorry, being a life long AA Consumer I don’t give much credulence to the new aircraft that have Xian Warrior seating arrangements…my favorite narrow body was the Mad Dog with civil seating of 2-3.
    So what if it was loud, somewhat creaky…that lent it character. Which few of the B 737’s with their constantly extending tight & tighter interiors, fail to grasp. Free meals are only a ‘bonus’ if your seat ‘mate’ can keep his elbow out of your cereal…otherwise it’s a lost cause……

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