As much as we like to grumble about sitting in coach -- particularly on long-haul flights -- recent years have proven that culinary perks can still be found in flight. While we may miss the flutes of bubbles and fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate-chip cookies (once served on every Midwest Airlines flight), here are five new reasons to board an economy seat hungry or thirsty -- and deplane satisfied.
1. Complimentary Hot Meals
These days you pretty much have to fly to Europe or Asia to get a free meal. But Hawaiian Airlines is an exception. All of its domestic flights dish out the aloha spirit in economy seating with a hot lunch and dinner choice of ginger chicken or farfalle pasta duo (on flights between JFK Airport plus West Coast destinations to Hawaii). For flights departing before 10 a.m., select a hot breakfast or hot ciabatta sandwich.
2. Creative (And Free) Snacks
The newest onboard sugar rush is United Airlines’ Stroopwafels (Dutch caramel-filled waffles), which rolled out this February on all flights departing before 9:45 a.m. Similarly, JetBlue puts thought into its free snacks, offering Terra Blues potato chips, PopCorners popcorn chips, nut-free chocolate-chip cookies, and Craisins.
Southwest Airlines hasn’t ditched the free eats either, dishing out bites like Cheese Nips on long-haul flights (over 450 miles). The airline’s flight attendants pass no judgment on passengers who take two, or three.
3. Celebrity-chef partnerships
The celebrity chefs appearing on reality television shows are airlines' newest efforts to re-imagine in-flight cuisine. This isn't just for first-class cabins, either. Recent examples are Sunwing tapping Food Network Canada’s Lynn Crawford for dishes like slow-cooked beef short ribs, and Air France -- earlier this month -- luring in three-star Michelin chef Guy Martin, of Le Grand Véfour in Paris. And in August Cathay Pacific announced new cuisine such as pasta (fettuccine, shiitake mushrooms, white truffle oil, and white wine) developed by Daniel Green, a judge on Food Network’s “Kitchen Inferno” plus power drinks that include a Vitamin C booster.
4. No-fee wine and beer
On every Austrian Airlines flight, even if it’s just between neighboring European countries, passengers in economy class get chocolate and a choice of beer or wine -- at no cost. Porter Airlines, the Toronto-based carrier servicing Canada and six American cities (Chicago’s Midway, Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, Myrtle Beach, and Washington D.C.), offers free beer and wine, plus snacks, on all flights. Of course you’d expect free spirited beverages like this on many airlines’ long-haul transatlantic flights -- say, between the U.S. and Europe -- so this is a nice perk.
5. Artisan coffee
It used to be that Starbucks had a stronghold on airborne coffee service. Now, however, there are more players. United Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific flights serve Italy's illy dark-roast coffee. Also, Hawaiian Airlines serves coffee crafted from Kona coffee beans on the Big Island and -- as an ode to the Northeast -- JetBlue brews up pots of Dunkin Donuts coffee in flight. One of the few airlines opting to partner with a small roaster is Virgin America: get a cup of its San Francisco-based Philz Coffee on board.