With the exception of American Airlines, I have been fortunate enough to fly in the forward cabins on each of America’s legacy carriers.
While seat comfort, service, route network, and most importantly mileage program will likely be more determinate in choosing an airline, I take meal service into consideration as well when it comes to deciding which carrier to book with.
Below is a comparison of dinner service on each of the carriers. I have broken the meal service down into six categories: appetizer, bread, entrée, salad/soup, dessert, and presentation and assigned a star ranking between one and five (five being best) for each category on each airline.
1. Alaska Airlines – LAX-DCA, August 2007
I know these photos are old and a transcon flight (unlike the four midcon flights below), but it was the last time I traveled on Alaska Airlines and I thought I might as well include it in my comparison. My understanding is that on midcon flights, Alaska serves an entrée plus salad and dessert on the same tray. I am sure Bored Room will chime in if I am wrong.
Bagged nuts—tasty but could have been served in a ramekin.
Tremendous sourdough bread.
Large salad, good assortment of greens, excellent dressing.
Pork was overcooked; veggies and mashed potatoes were good—reminded me of a LH F entrée (not necessarily a good thing).
Cream puffs were good, and I believe Alaska now offers sundaes on transcon flights.
Unlike on United, Delta, and US Airways, Alaska’s paper tray linings looks like cloth.
2. Continental Airlines – PHL-IAH, September 2009
Bagged nuts—like Alaska, they were tasty but could have been heated and served in a ramekin.
None, although I did not expect any with the burrito.
Good assortment of greens, excellent dressing, delicious hot soup.
It looks like a lunch entrée and the portion was small, but the chicken burrito was tasty. The other choice was cheese ravioli. It would have been even better with beans and rice on the side.
Cloth on the tray plus real salt and pepper shakers.
3. Delta Airlines – PHL-SLC, October 2009
Doughy and lukewarm.
Good mix of lettuce, bell peppers.
Chicken, rice, and asparagus were good; excellent portion size.
Oreo cheesecake—my favorite! FAs also came through the cabin with a snack basket prior to landing which included large biscoff cookies.
Paper lining on tray and paper napkin are cheap.
4. United Airlines – DEN-PHL, October 2009
Hot nuts—I’ll take this any day over any fancy shrimp or carpaccio (though I note that American serves both on mid-con dinner flights). To compete with American, United has recently added a separate appetizer dish, usually fruit and cheese or humus with pita.
Warm and soft.
UA seems stuck on ranch or sesame ginger dressing, two choices I don’t like, and the nutritional value in iceberg lettuce is minimal. UA could learn from other carriers when it comes to salad.
The portion was huge—rarely is there is more food on the tray than I can eat—and it tasted pretty good, although I like Delta’s vegetable selection over cooked carrots, peas, and lima beans. Good chicken.
On dinner flights, a piece of cake is served with dinner and a hot cookie is served before landing.
I don’t like UA’s paper tray linings, but I like that they still provide cloth napkins.
5. US Airways – PIT-LAX, August 2008
Warm with a good crust.
As long as there is no iceberg lettuce and decent dressing, I don’t complain.
Breaded chicken was terrible—reminded me of a Swanson frozen dinner; pasta on the side was fair.
I like pecan pie almost as much as Oreo cheesecake.
Paper lining and tray like Delta, but I did appreciate eating off a large plate. Even though the cups are large, I hate seeing plastic cups in First Class.
Best Appetizer: United
Best Bread: Alaska
Best Soup/Salad: Continental
Best Entrée: Delta
Best Dessert: Delta
Best Presentation: Continental
Each carrier has a strong point, but I would give the overall award for best domestic dinner service to Continental. I eagerly anticipate reciprocal upgrades for United flyers next year on Continental flights.