A Shocking Message For Airlines

I’m about to argue a point that many an infrequent traveler will surely disagree with, and with which even some frequent travelers may take exception. However, I stand ready to defend my assertion, and I think the eventuality of it and the subsequent survival of all involved will prove me right in time.

Airlines: Stop forcing that default complimentary soda and snack on your economy passengers on domestic flights. Most of us don’t want it, all of us can do without it and we all know you can’t really afford it.

How many of us go for one-, two- and three-hour periods throughout our day without soda and a snack? Pretty much everyone. If we want a beverage or a snack, what do we usually do? We go buy one. So why should our lives in the air be any different than our lives on the ground?

Some may say the fact that you are trapped in a confined space for the duration of a flight somehow means that the operator of that confined space becomes obligated to feed you for free. But think about analogous situations. When you have to wait in a line for one or two hours, do you expect whomever you’re waiting for to provide complimentary drinks and snacks? Should gas stations along interstates be obligated to provide a soda and snack for free because you’re making a five- or six-hour drive or because you’re purchasing fuel from them?

When you think about it, airlines are being overly generous with this particular amenity in their economy cabins, which is often unwanted by many passengers anyway, and the offering costs airlines millions of extra dollars each year. We travelers have the choice to buy anything in the airport we want and bring as much food and drink onto our flights as we can carry. We also usually have the option to purchase food and beverages on board most flights. And while the prices in airports and in-flight might be a little steep (at least give us a break on that, airlines!), there is still no lack of access to regular food and beverages throughout our air travel journeys.

The issue that most airlines face today with respect to this amenity is that passengers, especially those who only travel occasionally and are already peeved at the cost of their ticket and probably their checked bag fee too (as if jet aircraft and skilled pilots were an inexpensive commodity), have come to expect, even feel entitled to, that free beverage and snack. But this entitlement is peculiar behavior that does not match our experience and expectations on the ground, especially in analogous circumstances.

When I am offered something to eat or drink in flight, I usually do take it. But the problem is that I also usually don’t want it. I just take it because it’s free, it’s being offered to me (sometimes forcefully) and I feel like I’m giving up something that is rightfully mine if I pass. But in all honesty, if I did want something I’d rather it be a Vitamin Water and a pack of Twizzlers instead of a Coke and mini-pretzels. When do we ever proactively choose miniature packets of pretzels as our snack of choice on the ground anyway? So why should our in-flight preferences and behavior be any different?

I certainly sympathize with fliers who are frustrated with dwindling choices in airline service, and with dwindling quality and customer service standards plaguing those dwindling choices. But wouldn’t you rather have perhaps more food and beverage options on board flights in exchange for just paying regular prices for them when you actually wanted them?

I think once we got over the initial shock of not being force-fed that soda and mini-pretzel packet by default, passengers would actually appreciate the change. Airlines, too, would appreciate not having the extra expense and might actually create a decent revenue stream from expanded and more reasonable in-flight concessions. And flight attendants would surely appreciate the reprieve from the mandatory rushed service and could focus instead on passenger comfort and requests on an as-needed basis.

While taking away yet another amenity that passengers currently still get for free during the economy air travel experience may seem counterintuitive at first, I believe a little reflection will reveal that passengers, even infrequent and occasional ones, will actually come to agree with me that they really don’t always want that bland in-flight snack, and that expanded options for which we pay reasonable prices, just as we do on the ground, would make for a much more enjoyable flying experience in the end.