How Airline Food Is Changing During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Beverages, snacks, and premium cabin services are being scaled back this summer.

Memorial Day weekend is coming up and, under normal circumstances, this would mean that we'd spend at least two days attending neighborhood block parties, frantically Googling how to get mustard stains out of a pair of linen shorts, and wondering whether this might be the year to visit one of those blowout mattress sales. It would also be the unofficial start date for the summer travel season, when we would've all taken our shoes off and shuffled through lengthy TSA lines, wedged ourselves into undersized airplane seats, and complained about those minor inconveniences until it was time to check in for our return flights.

food served on an airline tray
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Everything will be different this year, for obvious reasons. But airlines are still doing what they can to accommodate any passengers who want to (or need to) keep flying, and every carrier is taking steps to ensure that those onboard have the safest possible experience. Although some of the details differ from airline to airline, face masks seem to be mandatory, boarding processes are constantly changing to prevent customers from crowding together at the gate, and there's an increased focus on keeping everything as clean as possible. (RIP to inflight magazines, which always felt like glossy collections of germs.)

Inflight food and beverage services have been scaled back as well and, again, the practices can differ from airline to airline, but here's what you can expect if you're traveling in the near future:

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines says that it is "temporarily reducing [its] onboard service levels," which means that no foods or drinks will be served on any flights under 350 miles. On longer flights, first and premium class customers can have individual bottles of water, a sealed can of beer, and a packaged snack. Those traveling in the main cabin will get bottled water and a snack. Alaska has also temporarily suspended its pre-order meal selection, and is instead encouraging passengers to bring their own snacks.

American Airlines is also limiting its inflight service based on flying time. For flights under 2,200 miles or less than 4 ½ hours, first class customers will get pretzels, Biscoff cookies or chips, and a bottle of water during boarding, and can request alcohol during the flight. Main cabin customers have the same snack-and-water options when they board, but cannot buy snacks, alcohol, or additional food during the flight; Extra bottles of water, canned drinks, and juice will be available by request. On longer flights (over 2,200 miles) main cabin meal service will still be limited to long haul international flights, and first and business class customers will have to make do with a meal that is served on a single tray instead of in multiple courses.

Delta's options look similar to American's, although passengers on U.S. domestic and international flights to Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico will be restricted to bottled water only, regardless of their cabin; the airline will not offer alcohol, plastic cups, or ice. For long-haul international flights, Delta One and Premium Select customers will be served an entrée, bread, and dessert, while Comfort+ and Main Cabin travelers will get an entrée and dessert. All passengers will have "a full selection of beverage options," including booze.

According to its most recent press release, JetBlue is sticking to "pre-sealed snack bags and meals." Food & Wine has reached out to JetBlue for additional details.

Southwest has temporarily suspended all of its onboard beverage and snack services until further notice.

On Friday, United Airlines will start serving "all-in-one" snack bags that will replace its food and beverage service on U.S. domestic flights of more than two hours. Those bags will each include "a wrapped sanitizer wipe, an 8.5 oz. bottled water, a Stroopwafel and a package of pretzels." It has also suspended its hot towel service. Food & Wine has reached out to United for further details about its premium cabins and international and long haul flights.

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