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What Airlines Spend on Food

It’s time once again for us to talk about airline food. I know, it’s your favorite, right? But this is really interesting stuff. As part of Form 41 data that airlines have to submit to the feds, food expense is broken out. Someone brought this to my attention recently, and I played around with the numbers to get a really interesting chart. Here it is, showing food spend per passenger by airline. (Click to blow it up.)

Food Spend per Passenger by Airline

There are just so many interesting things to see in this chart. Here are my random thoughts.

  • Look at how much money Alaska spent on food in the early 1990s. That’s crazy for an airline that’s mostly short to medium haul flying. Obviously, they changed that significantly in 1993 and now they’re in the bottom half of the pack.
  • United and American have been going in lockstep, as you might expect. They hit their peak on food spend in 2001 and then, completely unsurprisingly, tanked from there.
  • You can really chart Continental’s success here. The airline dramatically slashed food in the early 1990s in its bid to survive. When Gordon Bethune took over and started investing in the product, food spend started to rise and it’s stayed there. Obviously, this number will start to plunge now that Continental has trashed free food in coach. Interesting that the spend is still less on Continental than United. I wonder if First Class has something to do with that?
  • Look at Northwest’s climb at the end of its life. That’s the Delta influence there, but both airlines have stepped up their spending. Much of that is likely related to the airline’s strong, fresh food buy-on-board program.
  • US Airways has always been near the bottom, but much of that may be because it has a much higher percentage of domestic flights than the other legacies. You can see the fight for survival after 9/11. Food spend dropped, but you can also see that food at America West started to rise a little after the merger. Now they’ve found equilibrium at a very low level.
  • The most steady spender on food? Southwest, of course. Those peanuts are cheap.

Fun chart, huh? Too bad we can’t map this to revenue from food sales, but that info isn’t given to the feds.

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