Airlines’ meal policies and North America

By Meg Quinn Coulter
This item appears on page 22 of the November 2018 issue.

After taking the "Cities of Light" cruise-tour from Prague to Paris with Viking River Cruises, on Oct. 16, 2017, I flew from Paris to Montreal, continuing home to Los Angeles. Viking had arranged my flights, routing me on Air Canada (888/247-2262,, which I had not flown before.

On the flight out of Paris, I found the plane comfortable (I had an aisle seat two rows behind business class), and the meal, with wine, was adequate.

An hour after eating and just before landing, we were offered a hot wrap-type of sandwich. I declined, as it would have been awkward to carry, and I thought I'd be eating during my next flight in a few hours anyway.

Transiting in Montreal, I had less than an hour before my flight, but Customs and Immigration were handled quickly.

The next plane was much smaller, with seating 2 by 2 versus 2-4-2, but I again had an aisle seat just behind business class.

After an hour or so, they came around with soft drinks and water but no peanuts or pretzels. The water was served in carafes — tap water that was so heavily chlorinated, I found it undrinkable. (One could smell it two rows away!) No bottled water was used.

When I learned that the only food available had to be purchased* on this 7½-hour international flight, I had quite a go-around with the chief stewardess.

She said that three years earlier, Air Canada "and most other airlines" had decided that all flights in North America and the Caribbean would be considered domestic. Therefore, on those flights, most airlines had stopped offering free "niceties" such as food, pillows or blankets (although the latter could be purchased in a sealed packet for $9.50).

The stewardess did bring me a cup of hot water when I said I was chilled.

I should have been told before boarding that I would have to buy my food on the flight, which most people would consider to be an international flight.

Had I known, I would have purchased something at the airport before boarding. I certainly would have taken the wrap that I was offered just before landing in Montreal!

Los Angeles, CA

ITN emailed a copy of Ms. Coulter's letter to Air Canada and received the following response.

While we are pleased that Ms. Coulter enjoyed the international segment of her journey, it is disappointing to learn she was dissatisfied with the North American segment.

Typically, when customers purchase tickets on Air Canada, during the booking process before purchase and in their final itineraries it is stated clearly whether a complimentary meal is included or if customers will be offered our buy-on-board service, Air Canada Bistro. Given that another agency arranged this flight for the customer, it is unclear if this information was conveyed.

For your background, like most major North American carriers, Air Canada phased out complimentary meal service in the North American Economy cabin more than 10 years ago as we introduced an à la carte pricing model in order to offer everyday low fares.

Instead, we provide a buy-on-board service that has received high ratings ( As well, we accept credit cards on board, so there is no need for customers to change currency to avail themselves of these offerings. Meals can also be paid for in advance, at the time of booking.

We will certainly review this customer's comments, as we are highly focused on customer service and always aim to improve.

PETER FITZPATRICK, Media Relations Team (Ontario, Manitoba, USA and South America), Air Canada

* On April 4, 2018, Air Canada announced it was restructuring its economy-class options into five tiers, each with different inclusions. Passengers who purchase seats in the highest tier, Latitude, will receive a voucher for food and drinks. On the other four tiers, Comfort, Flex, Standard and Basic, any food desired still must be purchased.