Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyApril 17, 2023

Hear me out: Just ditch the snacks on domestic flights entirely

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Our national airline is conducting a nationwide search for the perfect in-flight snacks for domestic and international flights. But does an hour-long domestic flight really need a snack at all?

Air New Zealand say it’s looking to diversify the snacks it provides in-flight to cater to “different dietary needs and time-of-day appetites” and wants to showcase the best snacks New Zealand has to offer. Snacks with sustainable packaging will get “extra brownie points” in the search, dubbed the “Great Kiwi Snack Off”.

Here’s one idea: what if they just didn’t serve snacks on domestic flights at all? The longest domestic flight in New Zealand is from Auckland to Invercargill and takes two hours. The trip from Wellington to Auckland is an hour. I spend longer than that on the bus getting to and from work in Auckland, and manage to survive without a snack. 

I haven’t had a snack on the Auckland-Wellington flight in years. The pace at which the trolley has to go up and down the aisle is ridiculous and you’ve barely burned the roof of your mouth on your coffee diluted with UHT milk before the attendants are back to clear the rubbish. And then they’ve barely cleared the rubbish before they’re back with the lollies. I’ve taken to pretending to sleep simply to save them having to ask me if I want anything.

God save you if you need to get to a loo. Timing it right to avoid being in the middle of a trolley sandwich is an art most with weak bladders do not have time to perfect. If I had to choose between surviving on recirculated air for an hour or utitlising the rare downtime being on a plane affords you to wee, I would pick going for a wee every time.  

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but my time-of-day appetite is regulated to be just fine running on the breakfast, lunch and dinner I eat most days. The lack of a beetroot cracker or seven bits of popcorn has never proven to be crucial to my survival.

“Brownie points for sustainable packaging” sounds all good but the health and safety reality is that anything single-serve will need to be individually wrapped and somewhere along the production line and supply chain, waste will be created. 

Most airports have several food outlets or newsstands where you can buy food. I applaud the attempt to cater to varied dietary requirements, but you can’t please all the people all the time, so would it not be easier just to let people BYO snack and let everyone enjoy a little relaxing sit down or gauntlet-free toilet run? Also how likely is it that anything that needs to be mass produced and individually packaged would meet the incredibly subjective criteria of “the best snacks New Zealand has to offer” anyway?

British Airways stopped serving free snacks on flights less than five hours long in 2016. You can buy a Marks and Sparks sandwich if you need one. Most domestic airlines I’ve flown in the US don’t offer free snacks, instead you pay and have them brought to you on demand. In shocking, but old news for the 1%, American Airlines axed whole meals to first- and business-class passengers on flights shorter than two hours and 45 minutes in 2014, although they will throw them a cheese and crackers. 

Air New Zealand says the cheese and crackers served during Koru Hour and lollies served at the end of flight are to be preserved. The lollies are dished out because sucking them is meant to help relieve pressure on the ears as the plane descends. It’s science, which is why you should take five.

Koru Hour seems to have reached some kind of God-tier level of brand recognition and the free wine and beer is now regarded as a birthright. Best not to mess with that. It’s also just host responsibility. By the time you board, stuff your bag into the three inches of space left in the overhead locker, sit, belt up, stuff your other bag under the seat and do it all again at the other end, the speed at which you must consume your free drink is such that the cheese and crackers are there to counter the effects of rapid consumption of alcohol at great altitude.

Air New Zealand says it want to take things up a notch, offering more snack variety and flavours. As anyone who has looked to book a domestic flight during the school holidays can testify, some things have definitely been taken up a notch – but not the food. If there’s a chance that not barreling a trolley full of artisanal vegetable chips down the aisle at warp speed makes it even slightly less expensive to take the friendly sky’s equivalent of a standard Auckland bus commute, I am all for it. 

In general snacks are great, but by their very nature, they’re non-essential. The in-flight snacks serve no real purpose unless it’s to make us feel like we’re getting our money’s worth on a $400 flight to a destination that’s otherwise difficult to affordably and efficiently reach by any other means of transport. They are an accoutrement of branding and a relic of a small country’s national pride in having an airline that isn’t obviously and overtly awful – if only because they’re benevolent enough to not make us pay for our little bag of cassava chips.

Keep going!