It’s the little things when you fly. Especially when you fly economy class.

Recently, I wrote about how Delta Air Lines is rolling out premium meal offerings on international economy flights: Prosecco to start. A three course dinner. Fancy plates and cutlery. Heck, even ice cream.

It sounded good. And I wondered if this might mean other big U.S. carriers would have to improve economy class food to keep up.

Well no. But yes. Well, sort of-;at least on American Airlines.

The change they’re making at American is simple, but it does represent progress: They're letting you order and pay for a meal in economy class at the same time as you book your ticket.

The option rolled out across their entire system this week, according to JT  Genter, who wrote about this for The Points Guy.

I might not have thought this was such a big deal until recently, when I learned what happened when you take a 2-year-old child on a 5-hour international flight-;and you presume incorrectly that you’ll be able to buy her lunch on the plane.

It was a teachable moment. (It was actually only my second biggest travel-related mistake in the last few months.)

So now, even though American Airlines ranked #7 out of 10 for families recently, I can imagine that this small advantage might weigh into my decision-making process.

Business traveler or family traveler, it's no fun to learn that your airplane has already sold out of meals, or potentially worse, that the only thing left is a pathetically anemic BBQ sandwich.

The choices Genter was given while booking a Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to San Francisco (SFO) flight included a fruit and cheese plate, a chicken arugula wrap, or a turkey sandwich-;each offered for the not-totally-insane, considering prices of between $8.99 and $9.99.

No, these aren’t exactly fine dining. And, of course there are restrictions, namely: 

  • You must order between 30 days and 24 hours ahead of time. So, I hope you can predict what you’d like to eat for lunch a week from next Wednesday, for example.
  • Your flight has to be at least three hours, and have a departure time between 9:45 a.m. and 8 p.m.
  • You must be on a flight that does not “otherwise have a meal provided in economy.”

But while it's a simple change, that's the point. Passengers have been nickel-and-dimed on so much lately in economy class.

It's nice to imagine a company finding a way to give them a little something extra. Even though they figured a way to do it that literally doesn't cost them anything.