Inflight service is back on US airlines: Here’s what food and drinks to expect on your next flight

Nov 7, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.


As travellers are returning to the skies, airlines are resuming services that were temporarily cut due to the pandemic.

In an effort to lower the risk of contamination and save some cash, airlines made drastic changes to their services, both on the ground and in the air. This included closing lounges and cutting all or most inflight service.

However, as the situation is evolving and airlines are introducing new safety measures, they’re also reopening some lounges and expanding their onboard food and beverage offerings.

Most airlines are offering complimentary snacks and drinks again on many flights, while some are even offering food for purchase in economy and full meals in premium cabins. Most airlines that went dry have also resumed alcohol service.

Here’s what food and drink options you can expect on board the major U.S. airlines for the foreseeable future. The offerings are constantly changing, so be sure to check back regularly for the latest information.

Want more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox? Sign up for our daily newsletter.

In This Post

Alaska Airlines

Alaska has resumed limited food and drink service on flights longer than 350 miles. For flights less than 350 miles, all service is still suspended.

For flights over 350 miles:

  • A full selection of soft drinks, including mini cans of soda, juices and freshly brewed Starbucks Coffee and Teavana Tea are available in all cabins
  • Complimentary beer, wine, spirits and mixers are available in premium and first class
  • Alcohol is available for purchase in the main cabin
  • Main cabin and premium-class passengers are offered a small packaged snack
  • First-class passengers are offered an assortment of snacks from a snack basket

For flights over 670 miles (typically more than two hours):

  • On flights departing between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., first-class passengers are also offered a choice between two cold entrees; signature fruit and cheese platter available via preorder. Fresh meal box options may include an asparagus Tillamook cheddar frittata with fresh fruit, a garlic marinated sirloin sandwich and a Bristol Bay smoked salmon platter, among others.

For flights over 1,100 miles:

  • Main cabin and premium-class passengers can purchase either a signature fruit and cheese platter or ham-and-egg breakfast wrap on flights departing between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.; signature fruit and cheese platter or harvest-smoked turkey sandwich on flights departing between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Preordering via Alaska’s website or mobile app is required.
  • First-class passengers are offered a full meal with an appetizer and choice of two hot entrees or the option to preorder a signature fruit and cheese platter on flights departing between 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.; choice of signature fruit and cheese platter or harvest-smoked turkey sandwich on red-eye flights.

Allegiant Air

This airline is continuing to sell food and beverages, all of which are served in prepackaged and factory-sealed containers.

American Airlines

AA First class meal on tray
American Airlines first class tray meal service (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

American is offering some level of service on nearly all flights.

For flights under 900 miles:

  • Complimentary beverage service, including canned drinks, juice and water in the main cabin
  • Full beverage service, including alcohol, is available in first class
  • No snacks, alcohol or food for purchase are available in the main cabin
  • First-class passengers are offered a selection of snacks, such as fig bars, kettle chips and green pea snack crisps

For flights between 900 and 2,199 miles (typically up to 4.5 hours):

  • Complimentary beverage service, including canned drinks, juice and water in the main cabin
  • Full beverage service, including alcohol, is available in first class
  • Complimentary pretzels in the main cabin
  • No snacks, alcohol or food for purchase are available in the main cabin
  • First-class passengers are offered complimentary “Fresh Bites” snacks served on trays on flights departing between 5 a.m.and 9 p.m. These include items such as fresh fruit, yoghurt and breakfast sandwiches in the morning and fruit and cheese plates, sandwiches, salads and fresh appetisers for lunch and dinner.
  • Over the next several months, American will introduce fresh meals to first-class on regional flights over 900 miles.

Related: My experience flying across the country during the coronavirus pandemic

For flights longer than 2,200 miles (typically more than 4.5 hours), including transcontinental and flights to Hawaii:

  • Alcohol is not available in the main cabin or Main Cabin Extra except on long-haul international flights
  • Other main cabin beverages and complimentary pretzels or Biscoff cookies are available per usual
  • No snacks or food for purchase are available, but main cabin meals are served on long-haul international flights
  • Main cabin passengers on premium transcontinental flights (JFK, BOS and MIA to or from LAX, SFO and SNA) are served a complimentary fresh snack, such as a turkey sandwich, fruit and cheese plate or hummus platter
  • First-class passengers are offered complimentary “Fresh Bites” meals. While still cold, these are more substantial than the Fresh Bites snacks served on shorter flights
  • First- and business-class passengers on premium transcontinental flights (JFK, BOS and MIA to or from LAX, SFO and SNA), long-haul Hawaii flights (to or from Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago), and long-haul international flights receive a hot meal, served on one tray instead of in courses. Passengers also receive a prearrival snack
  • From 10 November, American will resume predeparture beverage service in premium cabins on international and premium transcontinental routes with Flagship service, as well as hot towels, warmed bread and a choice of desserts
AA Main Cabin fresh snack
Main Cabin meal on premium transcontinental routes. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Although the timing is vague, American shared that, over the next several months, it will gradually bring back hot meal service, similar to what was served before the pandemic started, on domestic first-class flights over 900 miles.

American was planning on resuming main cabin alcohol sales and its buy-on-board food program in the summer. However, due to a recent uptick in disorderly passenger behaviour, the airline won’t resume alcohol sales until at least 18 January 2022, when the federal mask mandate is set to expire.

Delta Air Lines

Jon & Vinny's Delta One meal
(Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Delta made some of the most significant cuts to its inflight service of any U.S. airline, but it has since begun to slowly reintroduce some service elements on flights more than 350 miles. It will also resume alcohol sales in coach soon.

For flights between 251 and 499 miles:

  • All passengers receive a complimentary snack (one savoury and one sweet)
  • Coffee, tea and individual bottles of water are available in all cabins
  • Delta Comfort+ and first class customers receive complimentary beer and wine service
  • First-class passengers are also offered soft drinks like mini soda cans, juices and mixers

For flights 500 or more miles:

  • All passengers receive a complimentary snack (one savoury and one sweet)
  • Delta Comfort+ and first class customers receive complimentary beer and wine service
  • Alcohol is available using tap-to-pay in the main cabin
  • Coffee, tea, Coca-Cola mini cans and juice are available in all cabins
  • On flights over 900 miles, first-class passengers get an individually packaged Flight Fuel box in addition to snacks
Delta first-class snack box options. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

For transcontinental flights between Boston (BOS) and New York-JFK and Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Seattle (SEA), as well as between LAX and Washington, D.C. (DCA):

  • In addition to the above items, hot meals are available in first-class and Delta One. According to Delta, flyers can expect “popular breakfast, lunch and dinner items like lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry thyme syrup, a smoked salmon plate with bagel chips, and beef short ribs with whipped potatoes.”

For long-haul international flights and flights from Atlanta (ATL) and Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) to Honolulu (HNL):

  • A full selection of beverage offerings and hot, prepared food service in all cabins
  • Predeparture beverage for Delta One passengers limited to individual bottled water
  • Fresh pillows, blankets and amenity kits are available
  • As a precaution, all glassware has been replaced with single-use cups

Frontier Airlines

Frontier is currently offering limited beverage items available for purchase in flight. These items are only available upon request.

Hawaiian Airlines

Complimentary bottled water is provided to each guest. Other beverages are limited to those that are canned or bottled on all flights other than the long-haul departures, such as to and from Boston and New York-JFK. First-class predeparture beverage service has been moved to shortly after takeoff to minimise mask removal during boarding.

Hawaiian has temporarily suspended Pau Hana snack cart sales.

However, travellers are offered a complimentary prepacked sandwich. Full meals are still available in first class, but they are delivered on one tray instead of multiple courses. Pillows and blankets are currently only available in first class.

Related: The U.S. is officially reopening to vaccinated visitors from 8 November

JetBlue

JetBlue continues to offer Mint passengers some tasty fresh options. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

JetBlue continues to offer a selection of complimentary food and beverage service, as well as some for-purchase items, but at a limited capacity.

In economy, a limited selection of snacks, drinks and items for purchase (presealed EatUp snack boxes, pillows, blankets and earbuds) are served from carts in the aisle.

Three of JetBlue’s five complimentary snack offerings, including Cheez-It crackers, PopCorners Popcorn Chips, 88Acres Cinnamon and Oats Seed Bar Thins, Goodie Girl Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies and Terra Sweets & Blues potato chips, are being provided on a rotational basis.

For drinks, there’s a limited selection including Pepsi, Bubly Lime, Canada Dry Sierra Mist and Adam & Eve juices, as well as hot Dunkin Donuts beverages. Although some for-purchase items are available again, liquor and EatUp Café fresh food sales remain suspended. Additionally, the self-serve pantry is not available on flights that usually have it.

Full meals are available in Mint but are served on one tray and sealed. Predeparture beverage service, espresso-based drinks, bread, breakfast sides and fruit options have been suspended. Drinks are served in single-use cups instead of glassware. Bottled water is still available at each seat.

Complimentary full meals are also available in coach on London flights.

Related: First look at what it’s like to fly the JetBlue Mint Studio from London Gatwick

Southwest Airlines

Southwest initially suspended all onboard beverages and snacks. However, as of mid-March 2021, the airline is serving a limited selection of nonalcoholic beverages and snacks on flights over 250 miles.

Then, in the summer, it slowly began expanding its beverage offerings. Since 24 June, Community Coffee and other soft beverages are being offered on board all flights at least 251 miles long.

It was originally also going to begin to resume alcohol sales on that date, but that’s being delayed due to “the recent uptick in industry-wide incidents of passenger disruptions inflight.” It doesn’t expect to resume alcohol sales until the mask mandate is lifted. Once alcohol sales return, Southwest will offer the following options:

  • Beer: Miller Lite ($6 or £4.45), Dos Equis ($6 or £4.45) and Blue Moon ($7 or £5)
  • Red wine: Carmenet cabernet sauvignon ($6 or £4.45)
  • Orange juice
  • Cranberry cocktail
  • Mossel Bay Chenin Blanc chardonnay ($6 or £4.45)
  • Deep Eddy vodka ($7 or £5)
  • Jack Daniels whiskey ($7 or £5)

Since Southwest suspended alcohol sales for over a year, it’s extending any expiring drink coupons through at least the end of 2021.

Related: See the meals U.S. airlines served passengers in the 1960s

Spirit Airlines

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

This airline is continuing to sell food and beverages as usual. For a limited time, it is also selling face masks for $3 (about £2) and donating the proceeds.

United Airlines

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

United has restored most onboard service elements. Drinks are available on all flights, but only on request on flights under an hour. Coffee and tea are available on all flights with beverage service, as are cups of water (in addition to the small bottles that may be provided).

Complimentary single-serve bottles of wine, beer and liquor are available in premium cabins on all flights. Complimentary beer and single-serve bottled wine are available in economy on international flights.

On domestic flights, first-class passengers receive an “all-in-one” snack bag with a wrapped sanitiser wipe, 8.5-ounce bottle of water and two snacks on all flights over an hour long. Economy passengers receive that same snack bag on flights over 2 hours and 20 minutes and can also purchase snacks from the Choice Menu on flights over four hours.

As of 15 June, United is once again offering hot, plated meal service for domestic first-class flyers on routes over 1,500 miles and on hub-to-hub flights over 800 miles or two hours or longer.

United’s seven domestic hubs are Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington Dulles (IAD). All meals are served individually wrapped on one tray. Shorter, non hub-to-hub flights continue to offer snack boxes.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

On premium transcontinental flights, such as between Los Angeles (LAX) and Newark (EWR), as well as long Hawaii flights (those over six hours), economy and economy plus passengers receive the “all-in-one” snack bag. Premium cabin passengers receive a prepackaged hot meal, ice cream and a packaged snack for prearrival.

On long-haul international flights, economy passengers receive an entree, a snack and packaged dessert, as well as pre-packed midflight and pre-arrival snacks. In Polaris and Premium Plus, the entire meal is served on one tray, either prepackaged or covered for you to unwrap instead of in courses.

Preorder meals and food for purchase are currently not available, except for Kosher meals on the Newark to Tel Aviv (TLV) route.

United buy-on-board options

You can head to united.com or check the menu in the United mobile app to see what’s available on your flight. Just remember that you’ll need to save a payment method on your United account for contactless payments on board. Alternatively, you can now make contactless payments onboard through the PayPal mobile app.

Top-tier Premier 1K and invite-only Global Services members seated in coach receive a complimentary snack box and alcoholic drink, subject to availability.

Bonus: Air Canada

Air Canada initially made some drastic inflight service cuts but has since relaunched many service elements.

For long-haul international flights:

  • Passengers will get prepackaged meal boxes, including an entree crafted by one of the airline’s celebrity chef partners, along with salad, dessert and packaged bread. In Signature Class (long-haul business class), the entree will be hot, whereas the entree will be cold in economy and premium economy
  • There will be a packaged cold, light refreshment served prior to landing in all cabins, as well as a midflight cold sandwich and snack on longer flights
  • Menus will be available in advance via the airline’s app and website
  • Bar service will include bottled water, Perrier, Lavazza coffee, black tea, a limited range of soft drinks, beer and individual bottles of red, white and Bottega sparkling wine
  • Bedding and amenity kits will be available

For North America flights:

  • Business-class passengers on flights over two hours will get prepackaged cold meal boxes crafted by chef Antonio Park, as well as a snack prior to landing
  • Premium economy passengers on flights over two hours will get a complimentary meal box, including a preselected meal and snack item from the Air Canada Bistro
  • In all cabins, a complimentary bar service is offered, including bottled water, Perrier, Lavazza coffee and black tea and a limited range of soft drinks; alcoholic beverages are only available in premium cabins
  • Meals will only be available to economy-class passengers on flights over two hours and must be prepurchased online
  • All passengers get a customer care kit containing a mask and antiseptic wipes upon boarding
  • Bedding will be available for travellers in Signature Class

Bottom line

The inflight service cuts due to the pandemic were significant, but it’s promising to see that airlines are already beginning to phase in at least some service elements.

Still, it may be a while until things really start going back to normal, so for the time being, try not to board a flight hungry and pack some extra snacks. Premium cabins will be the quickest to restore service, but even then, some changes, such as the elimination of create-your-own ice cream sundae carts, could remain long after the pandemic is over.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.