Will breakfast tacos on flights make people hate flying less?
Passengers on United airlines UAL, +1.86% flights across the U.S. will now have the opportunity to experience some South of the Border breakfast, no matter what part of the country they’re flying over. The company announced this week it will offer passengers breakfast tacos for purchase on domestic flights that are more than 3 hours long starting May 1.
United is just the latest airline to add specialty food options to its flights, as domestic companies work to make their food choices more appetizing. In June 2017, Delta Air Lines DAL, +0.70% partnered with two well-known Los Angeles chefs to upgrade its in-flight menu.
In 2016, American Airlines AAL, +2.43% tapped celebrity chef and Chopped judge Maneet Chauhan to revamp its menu. Previously, New York restaurateur Danny Meyer worked with Delta Air Lines to add specialty items like barbecue ribs to its menu. United Airlines also added an Uno’s Pizzeria deep dish pizza for purchase on domestic flights last year.
The culinary makeovers come as airlines have faced a series of high-profile customer service missteps and consumer complaints have skyrocketed A recent study from travel website Airfarewatchdog.com found that 92% of travelers say traveling by air today “leaves a lot to be desired.”
In-flight experiences such as meals are the top way for airlines to stand out from competitors because it’s difficult to substantially lower airfares due to fixed costs like fuel, said Ashley Raiteri, chief data officer for air travel company AirHelp.
Airlines outside the U.S. are ahead of this trend, offering complimentary in-flight food choices and varied menus, he said. Singapore C6L, +0.83% subsidiary Scoot, for example, allows passengers to choose from up to 15 different kinds of meals when they book a ticket.
=“Expect domestic U.S. airlines to follow this trend,” Raiteri said. “It’s important for them to offer unique experiences in flight and there’s only so many different ways to provide access to television. Food is one area where an airline can generate tremendous brand awareness, which makes them unique.”
With the cost of flying on the rise, not all American travelers will want to pay extra for in-flight perks like fancy food, according to Raiteri.
“The American passenger is not yet trained to appreciate paying for extras,” he said. “In most cases, Americans feel like they’re being ripped off by having to pay for additional services. But this is the trade-off we have to make to keep fares low. It remains to be seen whether Americans, who expect fantastic customer service across the board, will accept paying more for specialty food.”
To keep passengers happy in the air, it may make sense for airlines to serve less-than nutritious food, said Brian Sumers, who covers airlines travel industry website Skift. Although many travelers claim in focus groups to want healthier options, when they get on the plane they’re more likely to go for a burger over a salad, he said.
“You’re at high altitudes, you’re stressed and nervous, and you want the fattiest thing they can find,” he said. “People don’t care about health when they fly, they want the thing that will taste the best at that point.”