Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Because angry is better than hangry.
It appears the American flyer is entering something of a modern Golden Age of customer service. The bar is clearly very, very low, because the news here is that airlines are just throwing flyers a bone and gifting them the occasional snack.
Back in the day—like, the early 2000s—this kind of amenity was de rigueur, but many airlines nixed their complimentary snack service while inveighing against the high cost of doing business in a country suddenly less interested in flying.
Now airlines are posting record profits, and bringing back some (very minor) perks. United started dispensing vittles in economy class in February—“either rice crackers and sesame sticks or mini pretzel sticks, Cajun corn sticks, and ranch soy nuts,” according to the L.A. Times. Also in February, American Airlines began giving transcontinental passengers Biscoff cookies and pretzels for the first time since 2003, with promises to expand snack service to other domestic flights by April. Meanwhile, Southwest, Jet Blue, and Delta have been dispensing complimentary carbohydrates for some years now. (Shout out to the Delta fight attendant who kept me coated in a fine layer of mini-pretzel dust throughout a transcontinental flight yesterday evening.)
Now the snackaissance continues. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram* reports that American has been experimenting with providing free snacks for irate passengers waiting on flight delays longer than two hours. In New York’s JFK airport, where the airline is running its trial program, a vendor has been distributing fresh fruit, chips, and cold drinks to waiting flyers since December. At the three-hour mark, the paper reports, increasingly frustrated passengers are mollified with free sandwiches.
Jill Surdek, the vice president of customer planning for American, told the paper that the snack program replaces free meal vouchers, which take valuable time and energy for airport workers to distribute—time that could be better spent, perhaps, rearranging missed connections.
American says it has distributed snacks to about 100 JFK flights so far. The airline will begin testing out the program at LAX and another yet-to-be-determined U.S. airport in March.
American Airline free snacks for a flight delay. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/xGoVnZ5GCN— Rafael Valentin (@gazukpr) December 21, 2015
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported this week that airline customer complaints were up 29.8 percent in 2015, compared with the previous year. Top complaints included “flight problems, baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, consumer service, disability, and discrimination,” DOT says. Free food goes a good, long way—but not that good and not that long.
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the name of this paper as the Dallas Star-Telegram.