United shook up the travel world this week with its announcement that it would serve free snacks on flights within North America and Latin America, beginning in February 2016. It’s been 10 years since United customers received anything other than a can of Coke or a cup of coffee for free, so you can imagine their surprise and delight at the prospect of a tasty freebie gracing their fold-down seat trays. Yipee!
Passengers on morning flights will get a free stroopwafel, a “waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel-like syrup filling in the middle,” according to Wikipedia. They apparently originated in the city of Gouda and are popular in the Netherlands.
At other times of the day, the snacks will be Asian-style mixes of rice crackers, sesame sticks, and wasabi peas or mini pretzel sticks, Cajun corn sticks and ranch soy nuts.
In a statement, United boasted, “We’re refocusing on the big and little things that we know matter to our customer.” On a scale of big to little, those stroopwafels are decidedly on the little end of the spectrum. Cost-wise, they’re tiny.
On the website of stroopwafel producer Daelmans, a tin of eight waffles can be purchased for $4.30, or 54 cents apiece. Given the tremendous volume of stroopwafels United will be buying, the unit price will probably be closer to 25 cents. Costs for the other snacks would be similarly minimal.
It would be curmudgeonly to complain about an improvement to the coach-class flying experience, no matter how cheap or small scale. In fact, those stroopwafels look very tasty.
Still, many flyers will be left shaking their heads sadly, wondering how it came to pass that an airline’s spending an extra quarter on its customers would be considered big news. It’s a good question.
Reader Reality Check
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.