Food gets pricey at 40,000 feet

Consumerist points out US Airways' new coach-class snack menu, which resembles a poorly stocked room-service fridge.

Among the highlights: Planters brand trail mix for $4, Pringles potato chips or Twizzlers for $3 and Maruchan ramen for $3. As any college student can tell you, a package of ramen in any ordinary grocery store goes for less than a dollar.

The other prices -- all for single-serving size portions, by the way -- make it clear that US Airways is making the most of its captive audience.

The new menu also includes a couple of sandwiches, a salad and a fruit, cheese and meat platter for $7 each, plus cocktails. If you're the unlucky flier sitting next to the screaming child or infant with a dirty diaper, an $8 pomegranate martini might look like a bargain.

Of course, there is a way to avoid paying these prices. Bring your own snacks. A zip-top baggie or disposable plastic food container could hold plenty of Twizzlers or chips, at a far lower per-unit cost. As several Consumerist commenters pointed out, most airlines offer hot water for tea, so if you wanted ramen, you could easily bring one of your own and ask for water when the flight attendants make their beverage service rounds.

Bringing your own food also frees you from the limited, less-than-healthy options offered by the airlines. It's not really tough to make your own trail mix, for instance. Bringing your own food saves you money and gives you more control over what you -- or any kids traveling with you -- put in their mouths.

Don't want to pack a picnic when you fly? Depending on your carrier, you might be in luck. According to this Wall Street Journal article, several of the airlines have wised up to the idea that if you're going to charge people for food, you have to sell stuff they're actually willing to buy.

Since all of the domestic airlines except Continental no longer serve free meals on domestic flights, some are ramping up their offerings to keep passengers from buying food in the terminal (or bringing it from home) instead.

Delta Air Lines has partnered with celeb chef Todd English on a new menu and offers Ben & Jerry's ice cream on some flights. American sells Boston Market sandwiches and salads; one combo mentioned by the Journal sells for $10 on flights as opposed to $8.29 on land, which isn't too bad, considering. Hawaiian Airlines even serves a sushi "bento box" (a kind of Japanese lunch combo).

Readers, what do you think? Do you buy food when you fly, either on the plane or in the terminal? Do you pack your own? If you don't buy your meals on the plane, would better food change your mind?
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