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Plane food meal first class.

This Airline Is Adding First-Class Freebies to Economy

Never flown first class? One of the big-three U.S. airlines just upgraded standard service for travelers on international flights 6.5 hours or longer, to feature services usually only seen in business- or first-class cabins. And it’s totally free.

Delta Airlines travelers flying internationally in economy will now enjoy a welcome Bellini cocktail, a hot towel, a selection of premium appetizers or a larger entree, and free snacks from an “anytime  snack basket.” The Bellini, a cocktail of Prosecco and peach puree, is a nod to Delta’s Georgia roots. All of these items are a welcome upgrade for long-haul flights, but don’t expect other airlines to follow suit all at once.

On a contrary note, Lufthansa announced this November that it will cut its second hot meal service from long-haul flights and substitute a cold vegetarian snack. The new policy will go into effect in both main cabin economy and premium economy for flights of 10 hours or more.

When one line improves cabin service as a big competitor cuts service, what’s going on? Here’s my take:

Delta is trying to solidify its position—confirmed by most recent airline surveys and rankings—as the top U.S. airline for customer service. Delta’s aim is to move two needles a bit: customer preference and revenue premium. As far as I can tell, it’s succeeding in moving both—and a minor tweak in each needle means millions of dollars in year-end profits.

In response to gripes about the Lufthansa change, the airline recently answered: “The aim is to offer our customers a cross-fleet catering concept on all our long-haul routes.”

Did you ever meet a customer who really wanted “a cross-fleet catering concept” over a free inflight meal? It’s clear that Lufthansa is cutting costs.

I’m not sure either line’s action is “right” or “wrong.” But each line is clearly showing its ongoing, overall strategies: Delta’s focus on earning a revenue premium and Lufthansa’s on cost-cutting. Although both strategies are legitimate, it’s obvious which approach customers prefer. So for now, it’s “way to go, Delta.”

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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