United And Southwest Modify Snack Service On Flights

From tomorrow, both United Airlines and Southwest Airlines will begin their new in-flight meal systems. Both US air carriers have scaled down the food service they provide to their customers in the interest of health and safety. But, how long will this trend last, and will it catch on?

United Airlines Tail
United and Southwest Airlines will fly again but with a limited catering service. Photo: Getty Images

As airlines get ready to welcome back passengers as travel restrictions lift, a lot will have to change. Two of the US’ largest airlines have said this week that they will be reducing in-flight catering services to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

From tomorrow, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines will offer customers a reduced food selection and less alcohol as a result of their new policies. The aim is to reduce touchpoints and infections transmitted through open food sources.

What are the airlines offering?

Yesterday, Southwest announced via its coronavirus travel page that from 22nd May, it would only be offering food to customers on flights scheduled over 250 miles, or 30 minutes of flying. Onboard these flights, passengers will be provided a can of water and a snack – something like a bag of pretzels or cheese squares. There will be no alcohol served on these flights, but should the urge take them; passengers can request cups and ice from the cabin crew.

Southwest from above, aerial
Southwest will offer a snack and a can of water on flights over 250 miles. Photo: Getty Images

On its website, Southwest said,

“For all other flights, snack and beverage service is still temporarily suspended to limit Customer and Flight Attendant interactions. Our desire to continue providing Southwest Hospitality is as strong as ever, and our entire Team truly appreciates your understanding of the difficult decisions we need to make during these uncharted times.”

Similarly, United Airlines will also be offering its passengers a form of pre-packaged snack to see them through their journey. Unlike Southwest, however, food will only be available for those on flights longer than two hours and 20 minutes. There will also be no alcohol on these services, but customers can request from a selection of limited beverages.

Will the new service be a problem?

It’s obvious why Southwest and United are taking these measures. It’s in the interest of their employees and passengers. What’s more, the stricter that airlines are with strategies to mitigate coronavirus transmission, the sooner they can get more of their schedule up and running. And it does also instill peace of mind for the customer.

Flight attendant on UA flight service customer
The new method keeps customers and employees safe, but will it be forever? Photo: United Airlines

Largely, the provision of pre-packaged meals will not be a problem. Customers should still be allowed to bring their own food onboard. Therefore, the new strategy comes without too much passenger inconvenience. The only argument might be that these travelers are paying for a typical meal within their ticket price.

Financial worries aside, the move could actually be positive. Food waste is quite a significant issue for airlines, and it could be avoided through the provision of smaller pre-packaged meals that passengers are free to decline. Even though plastic-wrapped food is not ideal for the environment, there may be less of it ending up in a landfill.

What does the future of in-flight meals look like?

At present, it’s too early to say exactly how the airline industry will respond to its catering service. However, there are indications that things could get back to normal for some people.

American Airlines flies over NY
American Airlines has made changes to its service to reinstate the full meal service. Photo: Getty Images

Although American Airlines has altered some of its in-flight meals, it is reinstating a full meal service for economy passengers on long-haul international flights of over 2,200 miles. Business class and first class passengers will be served alcohol, but their multiple course meals will be presented on a single tray.

Despite the promise of a more conventional service, there are some companies out there preparing for things to stay the same. En Route International is a design company that has produced closed food boxes with fewer touchpoints for airlines. This innovative food packaging could allow carriers to bring back the meals their customer know and love but without the risk.

How do you think in-flight catering will look in the future? Let us know in the comments.