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A Guide to Airline Meals and Snacks

Airplane Meal On an evening flight from New York to Oakland recently, a sign at the gate in the JetBlue terminal read "Last Stop for Food." Though I hadn't given dinner much thought, the cutesy reminder got my attention and I quickly began weighing my dining options. Luckily, the JetBlue terminal at JFK has lots of them.

On the flight, there was no meal, as expected, but snacks were passed out on three separate occasions along with standard beverage service. Still, I noticed my seatmate eyeing my ham and Swiss on a French baguette longingly.

On the way back to New York, this time from San Diego, there was no sign, no warning that the only food available for the next five hours would be cookies and chips. If you're a leisure traveler, you may not know that the majority of the airlines, including some of the majors, no longer offer free meals on domestic flights. The policy of BYO (bring your own or buy your own) isn't a new one, but options vary among the airlines. If you'd like to be prepared for what food (or lack thereof) will be available to you on your next flight, see below for a roundup of what's available on some of the most popular airlines.

If you're flying in business or first class (except on very short flights), or on an international flight, you can usually assume there will be a variety of dining options. However, it's always worth checking ahead.

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AirTran does not serve any meals, but offers complimentary coffee, juices, Coca-Cola products and snacks on all flights. Premium beverages such as milk and spring water cost $2 each. Cocktails and wine are $6 on all flights, and beer costs $5.

American Airlines
American Airlines offers individually packaged snacks for $3.29 - $4.49 each on U.S., Mexico and Canadian flights that are two hours or longer. On flights over three hours within the U.S. or to Mexico or the Caribbean that depart before 8 p.m., Boston Market sandwiches and salads, which come with chips, are available for $10.

Complimentary meals are offered on Europe, Latin America, Japan and some Mexico flights longer than four hours within traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner meal windows.

On domestic flights or flights to Canada, the Caribbean or Latin American resort destinations that last over two and a half hours, Continental offers snacks starting at $2.99 for a la carte options and $7.49 to $8.49 for snack boxes. Meals are available for purchase on flights lasting more than three and a half hours on the following timetable:

Breakfast: 5 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
Lunch/Dinner: 9:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Breakfast ranges in price from $2.99 to $5.99 while lunch and dinner options range from $5.49 to $9.49.

Non-alcoholic beverages are always complimentary.

On flights to the continental United States, Canada, and select Latin America and Caribbean destinations up to two hours long, Delta offers a choice of complimentary snacks; and on flights to these destinations more than three and a half hours long, snacks and meals are available for purchase starting at $3.50 for breakfast, served from 5 a.m. until 9:45 a.m. and ranging from $6.75 to $8.50 for lunch and dinner options served from 9:46 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Complimentary meal service is given on Alaska, Hawaii and international flights longer than six hours. Complimentary non-alcoholic drinks are offered on all flights.

Frontier offers a selection of snacks, sandwiches and salads ranging from $2 to $7. Not all options will be available on all flights. For shorter flights, only beverages are available. Some non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary on all flights, while standard alcoholic drinks are available for $5 each, and premium non-alcoholic beverages such as bottled water start at $2 each.

JetBlue serves a variety of complimentary snacks and beverages. Drinks like Coke, spring water and juice are also free, while beer, wine and cocktails cost $6. The airline's boxed meals cost $6 and are available on most flights longer than two hours and 15 minutes.

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On select flights, Southwest serves peanuts, pretzels and other snacks. Southwest Airlines does not serve sandwiches or meals on any flight. Standard beverage service is offered on all flights, with beer, wine and cocktails available for $5 and energy drinks available for $3 (cash is no longer accepted onboard, so bring a credit card). Southwest also offers a one complimentary spirit of choice per passenger on select holidays.

Spirit doesn't serve meals, but snacks (muffins, candy, chips) are offered for $2 - $4. Spirit also charges for all drinks, including soft drinks and water ($3). Hot drinks like coffee and tea are $2. Alcoholic beverages are $6.

United offers complimentary meals in coach on most international flights. In coach class on North American flights (including flights to the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico) of two hours or longer, a complimentary soft beverage is given and snacks are available for purchase.

On flights more than three hours long, a variety of SnackBoxes are available for $7.29 - $8.49, and you'll also have the option of purchasing a sandwich or salad from the Fresh Food Menu ($7.99 - $9.49).

On all flights, soft drinks are complimentary, and alcoholic beverages are available for purchase. Once free, cocktail snacks are no longer available on flights shorter than two hours.

What Not to Do at the Airport

US Airways
US Airways offers complimentary meals on all transatlantic flights. Meals are available for purchase on most flights longer than 3.5 hours (excluding US Airways Shuttle, US Airways Express and transatlantic flights), taking off between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. Meals are priced at $8, and a Snack Box is available for $6 on flights more than 2.5 hours long.

The airline offers free sodas, juices, tea, water and coffee. Alcoholic beverages start at $7.

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    --written by Genevieve S. Brown; updated by Christina Livadiotis

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