Clark Howard

How's the food up there? What you get in coach class from all the major airlines

When it comes to air travel, one of the amenities that can help push airlines toward the top of passenger satisfaction rankings is the food they serve. But the carriers know that as airfares become both more a la carte and competitive, any edge they can obtain via meal service or alcohol is crucial.

Many years again, full meals were standard — and free — on most flights of any length on most airlines. Now, some carriers are charging for even the slightest portions. A recent study from travel search engine Kayak found that a number of airlines are getting away with huge markups on food and beverages, according to the UK site The Independent.

While most major airlines provide complimentary alcoholic drinks during international travel, not all airline food is equal. Some carriers have vegetarian options and child meals, while others have only snacks. And pricing is all over the place, as well.

As an exercise, we sought out the regular-cabin menu options for some of the most popular airlines

Here are the top airlines’ meal & snacks policies

Hawaiian Airlines: Meals & snacks all free

When it comes to who's #1 for airline food, we've got to give it up to Hawaiian Airlines, whose island-inspired fare is all complimentary. Their meals are not only hearty, but full of choice options like shrimp dishes and the Warm Curry Chicken Sandwich with a bag of chips, roast beef & cheddar sandwich and more.

Delta Air Lines: Free snacks + more on longer flights

The Atlanta-based airline has free snacks on every flight over 250 miles. Travelers also get their choice of complimentary Starbucks coffee, Coca-Cola products, water, juices or hot tea.

As far as snacks, Delta will serve you Squirrel brand peanuts, Pretzel Perfection Snack Mix, KIND Dark Chocolate Chunk bars and Biscoff cookies for free. As with most of the airlines listed here, alcoholic beverages are available for purchase in coach.

Alaska Airlines: Relatively cheap snack packs

Alaska Airlines offers a few variations of what it calls picnic pack snacks. One of them includes Tim's Cascade potato chips, Old Wisconsin salami, La Panzanella multigrain crackers, Emily's Premium Northwest trail mix, dark chocolate Almond Roca, and Glacier Ridge Farms smoked gouda.

Along with your reservations, Alaska Airlines lets you reserve your food. That's right, you can pre-order your meal via their app.

American Airlines: Free snacks

American Airlines has a snack menu that features Biscoff cookies or mini pretzels on flights over 250 miles. Coast-to-coast flights also come with complimentary meals (either a continental breakfast box or fresh sandwich wrap or fruit and cheese). The coffee? Freshbrew.

JetBlue Airways: Free snacks

JetBlue Airways offers alcohol from $7 to $9 and $6-$12 EatUp Boxes on select flights. When it comes to snacks, the airline offers Cheez-It Crackers, Rold Gold Pretzels, PopCorners Popcorn Chips, Belgian Boys, Choc O' Chip Cookies and TERRA Sweets & Blues potato chips. The coffee? Dunkin' Donuts.

Southwest Airlines: Free snacks

Southwest has complimentary snacks, but their only peanuts and pretzels. The airline says a "heartier" snack is served for longer flights. That means no real "meals" on this airline. They do have an expansive drink menu though. Beer, wine and spirits like Dewar's Scotch and Bailey's Irish Cream and more cost $7.

United Airlines: Free snacks + more expensive options

United Airlines offers complimentary snacks like cookies, pretzels, or a snack mix. They also offer lunch for $9.99, including Smoked Gouda cheeseburger, Uno pepperoni deep dish pizza and barbecue chicken sandwiches. Snackboxes can come with hummus, Pringles or M&Ms. There's also an expansive complimentary drink menu, including Coke products, Dasani, Minute Maid juices, Illy Dark Roast coffee and hot tea to name a few.

United’s adult beverage list includes Miller Lite, Stella Artois and New Belgium Citradelic Tangerine IPA, all for $7.99.

Frontier Airlines: Nothing is free

The Denver-based airline charges for all snacks and meals. Its menu is part of its "bundled" service, which means an unbundled airfare will get you nothing. Coffee and water costs $1.99. Alcohol is sold in bundles called "Happy Hour,"  "Beer Flight" and the "Double," which goes for $12.99.

Allegiant Airlines: Nothing is free

Allegiant has Deli and Wingz Kids Snack Packs featuring Wheat Thins, Slim Jim jerky and more. The airline also serves $10 combo packs with fruit medleys, Coke products and Jack Daniels Whiskey.

Spirit Airlines: Nothing is free

Spirit Airlines has Chex Mix, chips, two soft drinks, Pringles and a muffin, but that will cost you nearly $10. Its Perfect Pairings menu lets you mix and match snacks and beverages.

See this handy chart below to see which airline provides what, and who doesn’t (N/A).

Company Snacks Meals Beverages Alcohol International
Southwest complimentary N/A complimentary $5 complimentary*
Alaska $6 $4-$10 complimentary $7.50 complimentary*
JetBlue complimentary $6-$8 complimentary $7-$9 N/A
Allegiant $2-$7 N/A $2-$7 $6-$7 N/A
American $2-$10 $2-$10 complimentary $7-$15.99 complimentary*
Delta complimentary complimentary* complimentary $5-$7 complimentary*
Hawaiian complimentary complimentary complimentary complimentary complimentary
United free, $3.50-$10 $9.99 complimentary $7.99-$9.99 complimentary*
Frontier $2.99 N/A $1.99 $10-$12.99 priced as normal
Spirit $2.50-$17 $2.50-$17 $3 $7 priced as normal

 * some meals and alcoholic drinks complimentary on international or longer flights

Maybe airline food is not one of your priorities when it comes to choosing a flight, but how about roominess? Here are the airlines with the most legroom.

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