By Gregory Wallace, CNN
Here’s some “tough news” for premium travelers whose New Year’s resolution was healthier meals: Desserts are back.
After a pandemic pause, the signature treats are returning to premium cabins at United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
The offerings include Delta’s dessert cart and United’s sundae cart. They’re available only on international flights in the highest class of service — among other ritzy amenities such as lie-flat seats and plush premium bedding.
United’s sundae cart is the cherry on top of its Polaris business class on long-haul international flights. The airline said the service is currently available on some flights out of San Francisco and expands in February.
Delta’s “trolley of treats” includes ice cream, too — and “toppings like whipped cream, cookie crumble, fruit compote and chocolate chips.”
A perk of some international flights in the upscale Delta One cabin, other tasty options include cake, cheese and fruit.
Changing travel patterns
US airlines dialed back various services during the pandemic — cutting expenses when planes were flying at a financial loss and exposing flight attendants to fewer in-person interactions.
United, for example, said the sundae cart was replaced by packaged, single-serve ice cream.
But while passengers have returned to domestic flights, airlines are still working to draw passengers back to international routes. International travel in 2020 was 23% below 2019 pre-pandemic levels — a difference of 58 million travelers — according to government data compiled by the air carrier industry group Airlines for America.
The group’s figures show corporate travel — paid for by companies that can shell out several thousand dollars for a first-class overseas seat — is down but growing.
United said selling international seats is particularly challenging in its premium cabin, where the ice cream cart is set to roll. But a return in corporate travelers will help because “that is how we tend to fill the front of the aircraft.”
“Polaris is not back to where we’d like it to be just yet,” Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer, told investors on a call this month.
“I’m confident when we end 2023, we’ll be able to report that the Polaris paid load factors and paid yield are much closer to their 2019 baseline than they were in 2022,” he said.
Delta, meanwhile, is expanding its premium seating and plans to have the upgrade on 84% of its large international planes this summer.
CEO Ed Bastian told investors on its own call this month to expect more Delta trans-Atlantic capacity than flew in 2019. The airline also said it sold more dollars worth of premium seats in December 2022 than in December 2019.
And that was before Delta rolls out the espresso martinis and chocolate chip cookies.
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Top image: Desserts are returning to premium cabins on United’s international flights. (Photo from United Airlines)