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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25 Comments on "What Airlines Spend on Food"

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[…] Flier offers a really interesting chart on airline per-passenger food spending over the past 20 […]

Devesh Agarwal
Guest
Are the spend costs adjusted for inflation or the real figures per year. If we see, United started of at $6 at the start of the last decade, went up to $8 at the start of this decade, and is back to $ at the start of the next decade. However $6 had far greater buying power 20 years ago. Also all airlines are showing an upward trend in spending over the last 2~3 years even during the bad periods of the last 18 months. Have they finally understood that on-board customer experience, of which food is an important part,… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

I’d also be interestred in the inflation adjusted numbers. Perhaps I’ll put those together if we CF can shoot over his spreadsheet.

Nick Barnard
Member

Inflation adjusted its even more dramatic. AS’s food costs went from $12.43 per passenger in 2009 dollars to $3.02 per passenger in 2009 dollars..

WN’s peanut cost stays even flatter..

tharanga
Guest

It’d be nice to break it out by domestic v international, so it’s more apples to apples, as you mention under US.

Bobber
Guest

“You can really chart Continental’s success here.”

In providing utter sh1te for food, you mean??

robert
Guest

… and that’s why I bring my own food on board (so long as I can get something decent from shops airside).

Scott
Member

Alaska had great food in the 90s, and great commercials advertising it too. Look for some old Alaska Air ads on YouTube

Ed
Guest

I second the question about real v nominal in these amounts. Also, is this net of food-related revenue, given buy on board programs?

What strikes me here is that AA and UA haven’t actually seen their costs go down much (assuming these are net numbers) despite drastically changing their approach to food in coach. Strange.

Ed
Guest

Oh, sorry – just noticed your comment on revenue data at the end. That explains the UA/AA numbers.

David SF eastbay
Member

You should have said “Click to enlarge” and not “Click to blow up” Now there will be a long cyber delay while the feds search your site and interview all the readers……lol

Were the cost of pray cards on AS meal trays included as food costs I wonder.

SEAN
Guest

No thanks, I’ll bring on my own food purchased from the terminal. Just remember wich zone is for standing & wich one is for loading!

Dan
Guest

Count me in with the real/nominal crowd.

One other data point that I would like to see is that for Midwest/YX. Those guys were legendary for their food offering while we (CF and I) were in college.

Adam
Guest

These numbers don’t add up. There is no way they are spending that kind of money of food on a per person basis. Are they including buy on board?
On United for instance: They give meals out on 1st and Biz only during certain hours of the day domestically. They never do coach and yes they give out on international for everyone but if this is an average, let’s say 2/3rds of their passengers in a given year don’t get a meal. Then we’re really saying that they spend more like $27 per actual meal served?

david
Member

Very cool. I am actually surprised that they costs haven’t decreased more since the 1990’s.

David

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[…] a look at Snyder’s awesome chart and some interesting observations on his blog. […]

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[…] Take a look at Snyder’s awesome chart and some interesting observations on his blog. […]

sfohr
Member

It would be interesting to see Midwest Express (Midwest, now Frontier) on the chart.
Oh, those were the days, edible meals with real china and silverware, individual salt and pepper shakers, free wine served in stemmed glasses. . . and this was in coach as there was no business class.

NB
Guest
Don’t forget that on UA’s Transatlantic and Transpacific flights, everyone gets a full meal AND at the least a snack, which comprises either a light breakfast (yoghurt and a filled croissant) or a sandwich, bag of chips and a chocolate bar. That, together with the full meal probably comes to around $6 or more per passenger. Add to that pretzels with drinks and that’s just for economy passengers. Biz and 1st enjoy two multi-course meals plus mid-flight snacks and, although UA’s food offerings are not competitive with most foreign carriers on the routes it serves, it still has to come… Read more »
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[…] Take a look at Snyder’s awesome chart and some interesting observations on his blog. […]

Wandering Aramean
Guest

I’d bet that CO’s spend is lower than UA’s because they own the kitchens. There is some savings to be realized there.

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[…] Cranky Flier serves up a tasty visualization of what airlines spend on food. […]

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[…] as $9, per passenger, for inflight food, according to Cranky Flier’s post today called “What Airlines Spend on Food.” The post, which I recommended reading, included a government chart (below) tracking […]

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