Continental ditches the pretzels

Flying Continental? Don’t expect to be served a complimentary “beverage snack.”

airplane cookies

As I wrote in a story for msnbc.com Travel today (No more pretzels? Airlines ditch free snacks),

On March 1, Continental Airlines stopped serving free pretzels and cookies to domestic passengers flying coach. The new policy is designed to better align its in-flight snack and beverage service with its merger-partner United Airlines.

“We’ve removed the beverage snacks — pretzels and Biscoff — in an effort to reduce costs and align ourselves with the rest of the industry,” said Continental Airlines spokesperson Andrew Ferraro. “Our partner, United Airlines, has the same policy.”

The move could save the airline an estimated $2.5 million a year. Both airlines will continue to offer complimentary beverage service.

This is clearly a reflection of standardizing the onboard experience between United and Continental,” said Henry Harteveldt, an airline and travel analyst for Forrester Research. “Sadly, instead of elevating the United onboard experience, Continental has chosen the lowest common denominator.”

Harteveldt suspects the move may also be tied to — or blamed on — rising fuel costs.

“With fuel costs surging, once again we see an airline take its business problems out on its passengers. I’m sure Continental hopes that by removing the complimentary snacks, more people will buy the snack items the airline sells onboard.”

In addition to Continental and United Airlines, American and US Airways are among the other major domestic U.S. carriers that have already dropped complimentary in-flight snack service.

Not all airlines are rushing to follow this trend. Yet.

Alaska Airlines continues to serve a variety of complimentary snacks on its morning and afternoon flights.

Air Tran Airways continues to serve complimentary Biscoff cookies and pretzels in coach. “At this time we do not have any plans to change that,” said airline spokesperson Judy Graham-Weaver.

Delta Air Lines currently offers complimentary peanuts, pretzels or Biscoff cookies to passengers on flights of 250 miles or more. “There are no changes planned currently,” said airline spokesperson Morgan Durrant.

Continuing a tradition begun by Midwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines still bakes and serves complimentary chocolate-chip cookies to all passengers after 10 a.m.

Southwest Airlines continues to serve free snacks. According to its latest corporate fact sheet, in 2010 the airline served 19 million complimentary bags of pretzels, 87.6 million bags of peanuts, 18.4 million Select-A-Snacks and 29 million other snacks. “We’re always looking at enhancements and new offerings,” said spokesperson Brad Hawkins.

JetBlue Airways also continues to offer coach passengers unlimited, complimentary snacks. During 2010, the airline handed out more than 4 million bags of complimentary chips, said JetBlue spokesperson Allison Steinberg.

“As airlines like Continental continue to make these decisions (to drop snacks), Delta and Southwest, which both still offer complimentary snacks, become that much more of the passenger’s friend,” said Harteveldt.

Raymond Kollau of airlinetrends.com doesn’t believe legacy carriers should allow low-cost carriers to claim complimentary in-flight snacks as a signature service. “One solution for legacy carriers is to team up with brands.” He mentioned the successful free in-flight Wi-Fi campaigns that have been paid for by Google and other companies and said it can also work for food.