Airlines are fighting hard for premium customers – and now they are trying by offering food again in the first class and business cabin. Every week different domestic airlines are increasing their service in an attempt to lure customers to a better service. For a number of years first class dining degraded among airlines, and only a few, such as Continental, proudly offered “a hot meal at mealtime.”

The question is: How are they doing and is it worth getting an upgrade for a meal?


Delta consulted with celebrity chef Michael Chiarello (noted for being the chef Robert Irvine used for his wedding, and competitor on The Next Iron Chef). Chiarello’s Napa’s restaurant is a fusion of Italian and “California” cuisine. On a recent Delta flight from Atlanta to Phoenix we had an antipasto plate with some cheese and a nice container of premium gelato. Wine service has improved to wines from master sommelier Andrea Robinson.

Short Flights (one hour or less) Delta serves an array of cookies, fruit, pretzels, and other snacks. They will also offer this as a first snack on most domestic flights.

Intermediate Flights (Up to two hours) increase the snacks with some muffins, candy bars, packaged cookies.

Half Continental Flights (up to three hours) In addition to the snacks will have a three course meal (typically a salad, roll, and some meat dish). We had a choice between a tomato based vegetarian ravioli or a Chinese Chicken Salad.

Delta’s New First Class Dining

US Airways and American

Phoenix is the hub of US Airways, and they have upped their game for meal service. We fly this airline quite a bit so have appreciated the increased service in first class. They will be merging with American Airlines, and have announced that they will be decreasing meal service on flights less than three hours effective September 1st.

Under Two Hours US Airways offers a number of snacks choices, cookies, pretzels, biscotti, fig bars, and fruit. They are generous in bringing this basket around a number of times.

Under Three and a half hours they bring warm nuts to start the trip, as well as a three course meal. Recently they offered chicken breast with vegetables and a salad, along with a pasta option. Increase the length of travel and they offer ice cream or a fruit plate.

United Airlines

Continental boasted of “a hot meal” and United did not continue that, but the loss of premium paying customers has brought them back to offering more full meals.

Two-Five Hour Flights include meals at meal-times, with snacks. They are working on various noodle salads, and the ever present prosciutto, wraps, and cheeses.
Five hour plus flights have the enhanced version of dinners with some snacks.

Alaska Airlines

Their version of Chicken Marsala (the dessert chocolate is the best feature)

Alaska stopped offering a drink in first class before take-off. Perhaps this was due to increasing difficulties with some passengers, although their official line is that this was because of “assisting the boarding process.” This translates to they will offer you a glass of water before take-off while the flight attendants are busy catching up with gossip.

But the meals on long-haul flights are the best in the industry. They provide a good selection of wines (once in the air) as well as a common selection of passable food.

The James Beard Award Winner For First Class Airline Food Goes To…

Almost any international carrier. You will have better food and service in the first or business cabin on an international flight. I did enjoy the flight from Dublin to Atlanta on Delta, but if I could have gotten the points to work for British Airways from London to Phoenix, it is much nicer.

Most domestic airline terminals are increasing local restaurant food, so your best bet is still to eat at the restaurant and not in the airline cabin. Is the food worth the upgrade? No- but the seat room is. One small confession- I’ve taken Delta to Alaska before (through Salt Lake City) just for the ice cream sundae

The Delta Ice Cream Sundae – it is sometimes worth changing airlines for