After 15 years of near austerity, US airlines are restoring some small perks for passengers crammed into coach. Don't expect ample legroom or free checked bags. But fliers will find improved snacks, a larger selection of free movies, and—on a few select routes—the return of free meals. On Monday, American Airlines became the latest carrier to add something back. It announced the return of free snacks in the economy section and more free entertainment options on some aircraft, the AP reports. American, which recently merged with US Airways, hasn't offered free snacks since 2003; US Airways stripped passengers of snacks in 2008. This month, American will start offering Biscoff cookies or pretzels to passengers flying between New York and San Francisco or Los Angeles. By April, that will expand to all domestic routes. In May, American will bring back full meal service for coach passengers between Dallas and Hawaii.
United recently announced the return of free snacks on its flights starting in February. American is also expanding its complimentary entertainment on domestic flights with in-seat TVs. Passengers will be able to choose from up to 40 movies, 60 TV shows, and 300 music albums. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent recession, US airlines stripped almost every perk imaginable on domestic flights. Hot meals disappeared along with legroom, blankets, and pillows. "It was really about survival," says an American marketing exec. Since then, mergers have created four mega-carriers that control more than 80% of the domestic market. They started charging $25 for each checked bag and crammed more seats into planes to maximize profits. Now the industry is making record profits. (Click for more.)