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A Guide to Airline Meals and Snacks

Even if you fly regularly, it can be difficult to keep track of what food might be available in the air these days. The days of complimentary airline meals on U.S. domestic flights are long gone (at least in coach class), but a couple of carriers have recently reinstated free snacks, and many others offer a variety of goodies for purchase. 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 U.S. airlines.

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

airplane meal

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines sells hot meals on flights over 2.5 hours; a fruit and cheese platter is available for purchase on most flights over two hours. Prices range from $7 to $8. Snacks known as "picnic packs" cost $6. There's a special selection of for-purchase meals on flights to and from Hawaii, including red miso ginger chicken ($7).

Non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary, while beer, wine and liquors cost $6 to $7 in economy class (they're free in first).

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American Airlines

American Airlines recently began offering free snacks in economy class on all domestic flights (cookies or pretzels), as well as free meals on flights between Dallas/Fort Worth and Hawaii. Complimentary meals are also offered aboard flights between the U.S. and Europe, Asia and some destinations in Latin America.

On other international flights as well as all domestic flights, economy-class fliers can purchase items such as snack packs, sandwiches and other light fare ($4 - $9.99). Passengers in first or business class get free snacks, "Lite Bites" or full meals, depending on the length and time of the flight.

Non-alcoholic beverages are free on all flights, while economy-class passengers will pay $7 to $9 for alcoholic options. (These are free in business and first class.)

Delta

Delta offers one complimentary snack (pretzels, peanuts or cookies) on most economy-class flights, as well as a menu of for-purchase items such as Pringles chips, sandwiches, wraps and fruit/cheese plates ($3.49 - $9.99) on U.S., Caribbean and Latin America flights of at least 900 miles. Complimentary meals are available on longer international flights.

First- and business-class passengers get complimentary snacks and/or meals, depending on the length of the flight.

Complimentary non-alcoholic drinks are offered on all flights. First- and business-class passengers get free alcoholic drinks, while economy-class passengers pay $6 to $10.

Frontier

Ultra-discounter Frontier does not include any free snacks or beverages aboard its flights; instead, you can purchase these individually or in packages (such as coffee and a snack for $4.49).

JetBlue

JetBlue serves a variety of complimentary snacks and beverages in its economy-class cabins. Beer, wine and cocktails cost $6 to $9. The airline's boxed snacks cost $7 and are available on most flights longer than two hours. There's also an EatUp Cafe selection (sandwiches, salads, cheese plate, etc.) on some longer flights, with options ranging from $4 to $12.

JetBlue's premium cabin, called Mint, is available only on select transcontinental or international flights; fares in this cabin include complimentary meals, small plates and alcoholic beverages.

salty snacks

Southwest

Peanuts, pretzels and non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary on all flights. Beer, wine, spirits and mixed drinks cost $5. On longer flights, other complimentary snacks are available.

Passengers in Business Select get one free premium drink.

Spirit

Spirit doesn't serve meals, but snacks (muffins, candy, chips, nuts) are offered for $2 - $6.50. Spirit also charges for all drinks, including soft drinks and water ($3). Hot drinks like coffee and tea are $2. Alcoholic beverages are $7 to $8. Select bundles (such as nuts and a soft drink or a muffin and a hot drink) can be purchased for less than the cost of ordering a la carte.

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United

United offers complimentary meals in coach on most international flights. In coach class on North American flights over two hours (including flights to the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico), snacks are available for purchase for $3.99 to $8.99. On Northern American flights over 3.5 hours, fliers can purchase more substantive options such as sandwiches and salads ($5.99 - $9.99).

In first or business class, meals and snacks are complimentary and vary based on the length of your flight and the time of day.

On all flights, soft drinks are complimentary; economy-class passengers pay $6.99 to $9.99 for alcoholic beverages, while passengers in the premium cabin enjoy these for free.

Virgin America

Virgin America charges $3 to $5 for all snacks in economy class, and $4 to $9 for meals such as sandwiches or salads. Most of these items are complimentary in first class or Main Cabin Select (premium economy). Meals are available on all flights over two hours.

Some non-alcoholic beverages are free (such as Coke, Sprite, orange juice and coffee), while "premium" non-alcoholic drinks (including some teas) are $2 to $3 in coach. Alcoholic drinks range from $6 to $8 for economy-class fliers. Fliers in premium cabins enjoy most drinks for free.

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--written by Genevieve S. Brown; updated by Sarah Schlichter

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