Airline Upgrades Are Reaching Economy Passengers


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Anna Hurley

Passengers at the rear of airplanes have had little to cheer for a long time, and the Justice Department’s recent inquiry into allegations of collusion between carriers to control capacity, and in that way fares, has done little to improve relations. Still, several carriers have quietly restored or added a few creature comforts in economy class.

In June, United Airlines began serving free beer and wine in economy class on transcontinental flights. The carrier is catching up with American Airlines, which restored free drinks in transcontinental economy in 2012, and Delta Air Lines, which did so in 2013.

In December, the low-cost carrier Norwegian Air will introduce service from three East Coast airports, including New York’s Kennedy Airport, to the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe that will include free Wi-Fi access.

Virgin America plans upgraded Wi-Fi service that will allow passengers to stream video on 10 new planes that are to begin operating in September. This upgrade also includes planes flying between San Francisco and Hawaii in November. Wi-Fi access will be free until a rate plan is established next year.

Service improvements reflect the industry’s newfound economic stability. “That whole experience of being broke caused these airlines to make a lot of changes, some of which they later concluded were smart changes and have maintained, such as bag fees, and some they had to do to get through the day,” said Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly. “Upgrading meals and drinks again recognizes that there are things people will put up with on a two- to three-hour flight that they don’t want to put up with on a long-haul flight.”

Even some of the unbundled options, like food, show signs of being upgraded. This month United introduced the chef-designed Bistro on Board menus. Dishes include chicken chorizo scrambled eggs ($9.99) and sliced sirloin baguette sandwich ($9.49) and are available on most flights lasting more than three and a half hours within North America.



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