Maybe it's true or maybe it's apocryphal but back back in the 1980's, when airlines still served food to economy class passengers, American Airlines' CEO Robert Crandall proposed that by removing one olive from the salads the airline could save $100,000 a year (another estimate puts it at $40,000, but whatever).

But now the penny pinching is hitting the elite. American has announced that starting Sept. 1 it will offer snacks instead of full meals in first and business class on flights less than 2 hours and 45 minutes long. Currently, full meals are offered on flights lasting two hours or longer. US Airways, now part of American, will follow the same procedure.

If you fly on 17 popular (and presumably higher-value) routes such as Dallas-Chicago, the old rules will still apply.

So it has come to this. Even elite flyers are being dinged, just when airlines are announcing record profits. I'd understand this move if the airlines were still bleeding cash, but they're not.

Over at Delta, meals are served based on mileage flown. On flights up to 250 miles all you get is a cookie or bag of pretzels in first or business, or "heartier" snacks on trips of 251 to 899 miles. Most of these snacks (muffins, granola bars, cookies), I've found, are full of sugar and empty calories, so I'll pass thanks. United, too, now offers first and business class passengers a meal on flights only longer than 2.5 hours, but only "during meal times" which I guess is subject to United's interpretation.

Yes, of course, airplane food isn't all that great, even in first class, and no one is going to starve by not being fed for 2 hours 45 minutes, but sometimes when you take two connecting flights of, say, 2 hours 30 minutes and there's only 30 minutes between connections, it's possible to travel for a good part of the day without eating something. Maybe they'll let first class passengers get "take out" from the food-for-sale in economy.

Don't the legacy carriers love their first and business class passengers anymore? True, very few of them actually pay cash to sit up front. Most of them (including me) are freeloaders. They get free "status" upgrades (I'm an American "platinum" flyer so I can upgrade from almost any cheap fare) or they pay with miles. So maybe the airlines are thinking, hey let them eat cookies. But for those who sometimes actually pay $400 or $500 one-way for short flights in first class, these new meal rules seem as petty as ditching an olive.

What's next? Cash bars in first and business on flights under three hours? Or will they sacrifice the lemon twist from the martinis?

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