On Monday, free food made a return to fliers in United's economy class. Think stroopwaffels, pretzel sticks, and rice crackers. That same day, American said it would go back to giving out some free snacks in economy.
Seriously, how excited should I be about this? I mean, I am not one to snub free food--just ask any of my colleagues here in the Inc. offices. With airlines reporting record profits, it's only fair that flying should become a teensy bit less grueling. Plus, airlines from Delta to Jet Blue to Porter have continued to offer free bites of salty, sugary, unhealthy goodness even as United and American were taking them away.
But you know that saying about throwing a dog a bone? It's not that different from throwing air travelers a pretzel. Or stroopwaffel.
We don't really care about the snacks. They're a token, a relatively cheap way for the airlines to look like they care about the experience of their customers. But at this point, anyone who flies regularly has their own strategy to get some modicum of protein on the plane, without any help from the airline. No, food purchased from airport vendors is not typically very tasty or fresh, but at some point, calories are your friend.
You know who else is your friend? Flight attendants. Bear with me here. Yes, flight attendants hand out food, pester us with stuff we don't need from duty free, and clean the plane once our crumbs are everywhere.
But their real job is to keep us safe. No amount of rice crackers can change that.
I don't want airlines, particularly, to shower me with snacks. But I do want to see that their flight attendants know what they’re doing. As a random flier, it may be hard for me to judge this. But it's not impossible.
I used to travel with my daughters when they were infants. Only on one airline--Porter--did any flight attendant ever come up to me and tell me how I should hold my baby in case of an emergency. No one ever explained this to me during multiple flights on multiple other airlines.
Porter, unfortunately, doesn't fly everywhere I need to go, so I don't fly them that often. But do I feel safer when I do, whether I'm traveling with my family or on a business trip? You bet.
It's not just airlines. Plenty of businesses have grumpy customers and limited resources with which to soothe them. Maybe yours is one of them. So it's worth thinking about: Are you giving your customers a sweet treat designed to pacify them temporarily? Or are you doing something to show that you take their welfare seriously? Because when it comes to stroopwaffels versus safety, I know which one I'd choose.