Continental stops serving free meals on flights under six hours

With its competitors doing away with free food in economy years ago, it's a wonder that Continental Airlines didn't drop the perk earlier.

But the last airline to offer free meals to passengers on flights of three hours or more announced this week that it will discontinue gratis chow on all flights under six hours starting this fall. Continental, the country's fifth-largest airline, positioned the reversal as a way to offer its passengers healthier food options.

"We're hearing from customers that they wanted more choices," said Mary Clark, an airline spokeswoman. "In order to be able to provide that higher quality food, with more variety and healthier choices -- in order to provide that depth of service -- it changed our food model."

But the new fee-for-food service is really about adding to the beleaguered carriers' bottom line.