Will Free Drinks on Planes Disappear for Good?

The decision by discount airline Frontier to charge regular coach passengers two bucks for soft drinks (including sodas, coffee, tea and bottled water) was a bit of a shock, but as FareCompare noted they’re not the first U.S. airline to do so.

Frontier adds carry-on and soda fees

How Spirit Started it All

Super-cheap discounter Spirit won that race back in March of 2007 when it announced it would begin selling all drinks for a buck a piece (and according to the carrier’s website, you can still get something to drink for a dollar but they don’t say what). But how many remember when one of the major carriers tried this?

Will Frontier Inspire US Airways to Try Again

Two years after Spirit inaugurated its no free drinks policy, US Airways gave it a whirl – and air travel expert Rick Seaney was on the scene, just about to board his US Airways flight when the gate agent announced the new policy. “Nobody booed or anything but I did see surprised and startled looks on the faces of some passengers,” said Seaney. “Apparently they hadn’t heard about this new fee, and looked like they couldn’t quite believe it.” Eventually they believed but never embraced the idea and US Airways, which had been so sure other legacy carriers would go along with it (they didn’t), abandoned the disastrous experiment just seven months later.

Airline Fees – A Timeline

FareCompare asked a US Airways spokesman if they might revisit the experiment in light of the latest move by Frontier to charge for drinks and received a rather terse reply to the effect that they do not comment on pricing policy.

JetBlue – Full Cans for Free

Thinking that the no free drinks idea could be better appreciated by another discount airline, FareCompare contacted JetBlue to see what they thought. They thought they like their way of doing things better. “We’re committed to continuing to deliver an excellent core product which includes free snacks and drinks,” said JetBlue spokesman Allison Steinberg, who then added cheerily, “On JetBlue, you get the full can of soda.” You will on Frontier, too, after you pay for it.

Virgin – Freebies and Flirting

Virgin America seems to set the standard for generousity. On a recent flight out of San Francisco a FareCompare colleague noticed flight attendants serving a number of passengers Coke after Coke, which they ordered from seatback touchscreens. Perhaps Virgin makes up such gross soda consumption thanks to passengers who take advantage of its brand new “Can I buy you a drink?” beverage service that allows one passenger to have a cocktail delivered to another.

New Airline Fees

Could others follow the pay-for-all-drinks trend? Of course. Look how quickly other legacy carriers copied United’s decision to raise change fees to a staggering $200 – they fell like dominoes, US Airways, then Delta and American – boom, boom, boom. And in addition to no more free drinks, Frontier is also saying no more free carry-ons for many of its customers.

Find out if your carry-on is free – or up to $100

Remember Free, Hot Meals?

At the turn of this century, not having a free hot meal in coach would have been unthinkable. Then came 9/11 followed by the recession and by 2010 the last free meals for economy passengers disappeared forever (so did the airline serving them, Continental).

Now airlines sell snacks (with some exceptions) and a few sell complete meals – of varying quality. A promising new entrant in the food field is Delta’s DineUp menu for economy passengers, though there are a couple of things about it worth noting: DineUp’s hefty price tag – $21.99 – and the fact that none of these pricy entrées are hot meals.


Photo Credit: Kevin_Morris and davitydave via photopin


Published: May 2, 2013