Speed Reads

hunger pains

Airlines now are barely spending any money on food for passengers

Most people don't eat a meal on an airplane and then pinch themselves to make sure they weren't really at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The way things are going now, however, they should probably just slap themselves and wish they were at Sizzler.

U.S. airlines are spending much less on passenger food than they did before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that pre-9/11, airlines were spending $4.79 per passenger, compared with $3.62 in 2013. That average encompasses all the money spent on food sold to travelers in economy and meals that are served for free in first and business class.

Tough economic times are behind the decrease, and experts say that passengers are paying the price: Free meals served in coach are but a distant memory, and the quality of meals in premium cabins has plummeted. "Most U.S. airlines offer food on par with Grade B diners," Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, told the Los Angeles Times. "You'll have a better meal at Denny's than you'll have at most airlines."

Not everyone agrees with Harteveldt, though. United's Rahsaan Johnson told the Times that the quality and selection of United's food — which now includes a brand new Asiago baguette sandwich with fresh mozzarella and tomato — is better than it was 13 years ago. "You can quote me," he said.