America West Airlines will offer food for sale on its longest flights beginning Thursday.
The Tempe carrier signed an agreement with LSG Sky Chefs to sell food, including snacks, ham and cheese croissants and cheeseburgers for between $2 and $7.
The move is partly an effort to distinguish the airline from its chief rival, Southwest Airlines, which has made its reputation on good service, no frills flying and peanut snacks.
“It’s part of our continuing process to position ourselves as a premier low-cost carrier,” said Joette Schmidt, America West vice president of customers and in-flight services. “Premier meaning we certainly look at the competition, but it’s really more customer-driven.”
Cost-cutting airlines that once included food with the price of the ticket are now looking at offering dishes for a fee to those who want them. America West passengers can still bring their own food on flights, a company spokeswoman said.
Airline industry watchdogs mainly praised America West’s plan. “Buy-on-board programs have been generally well-received by passengers who either don’t have a chance to eat or can’t bring something onboard from the airport,” said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, a passenger advocacy group.
Stempler said the airline’s prices are a competitive advantage because other carriers charge as much as $12 for food.
“Passengers, I guess, have forgotten about the ‘free’ food that they used to get on many flights and this seems to be well-received,” Stempler said. “This is a good step forward for America West.”
Michael Boyd of the the Boyd Group, a Colorado-based airline consulting group, said selling food is a good idea despite some of the challenges it brings.
“It’s a nightmare to administer, but you’ve got companies out there that will take the risk,” he said. “Some of these companies will say, ‘We’ll give you the food, you sell it and let us know.’ It’s more work for flight attendants to do that, but if it’s what people want, it’s what people want.” The program also creates distance between America West and other low-cost carriers, Boyd said.
“Southwest has done very well because they treat passengers very well,” he said. “But now they have competition. On the East Coast, they have JetBlue that gives away onboard television and seat assignments. Southwest is going to be under increasing pressure to up the product ante.”
A Southwest spokeswoman said there are no plans to add food to flights.
“For 33 years, food has not necessarily been the secret to Southwest’s success,” Beth Harbin said. “We honestly don’t believe that’s something our particular customers are looking for. They’re mostly short haul. We always like to say, ‘Save your money, get a good meal outside of the airport.’ So it’s not a concept we’ve really looked all that seriously at. As our flights have gotten a little bit longer, we’ve kind of boosted the snack service a bit.”
America West will launch its food service Thursday on 65 flights, focusing on transcontinental routes and ones between its hubs of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Las Vegas and northwestern U.S. cities. The meals will be available between 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on a cash-only basis.
On Feb. 19, food will be added to another 55 America West flights, including markets such as Costa Rica, Florida and Canada.
“Our goal would be to have food for sale on flights that are three hours in duration or longer,” Schmidt said.
America West was the first airline to test selling food on it planes. A year ago, the airline flirted with the idea of offering a $10 plate of chicken Kiev on china to those on long flights.
But Schmidt said the test showed passengers wanted a simple menu and value for their money. “Our flight attendants have tested it,” she said. “They’re thrilled with it and we think the customers will be too. The overwhelming theme was, whether they purchased or not, tell us ahead of time, ‘We love it, we’ll buy it.’ ’’
Options will include $2 snack items, including cookies, chips and low-carb candy bars; $5 for a snack box that includes a pocket sandwich and snack selections such as a breakfast bar, cookies and crackers; and $7 for a full-sized meal. Menu items will include breakfast and lunch/dinner choices. Examples of the $7 meal include a smoked turkey and cheese sandwich with chips and a cookie, a cheeseburger with salad and a cookie, a ham and cheese croissant with fresh fruit and yogurt as well as crumb cake with fresh fruit and yogurt.
“We’re the only ones with a hot (food) option,” Schmidt said of other airlines. Peter Wilander, LSG vice president of marketing, said several airlines offer food. United Airlines is testing a buy-on-board program and Northwest Airlines and U.S. Airways offer meals already, he said.
“We’ll tweak it or revise it,” he said of the America West program. “What’s different than when airlines offered complimentary food is this is a retail model, so we’re going to continue with consumer-based research to find out what customers like the most."