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A brief history of airline cookie drama, from Biscoff to Stroopwafels

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)
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Frequent fliers can get a little crazy about cookies (see: all the love for Delta’s signature Biscoff). And when airlines make a change, passengers sometimes can’t resist crying over the proverbial spilled milk.

Gary Leff, author of the travel blog View From the Wing, was flying first class from Washington to Chicago this week on American Airlines when he noted that — not for the first time — he was served a warm chocolate chip cookie with his meal instead of after it. That didn’t happen, he said, when the airline still let passengers choose between a chocolate chip or snickerdoodle cookie.

“Passengers either need to eat the cookie first or eat it cold,” he tweeted. “Stop. The. Madness.”

Leff, who is also a loyalty marketing consultant, said he recognizes that “this is the smallest of possible concerns anyone could have.” Still, he argues that the service was indicative of a larger issue.

“It is a microcosm of the unintended consequences of changes where the customer may not be at the center of thinking at the airline,” he says. “It is one of many things that have been a challenge for American Airlines in delivering a premium product where they, I think, undermine their own best intentions.”

In an email, American spokeswoman Leah Rubertino said the airline’s policy is for the warmed-up cookies — which are available on shorter-haul lunch and dinner flights in first class — to be served “as a separate dessert course.”

The complaint is hardly the first time an airline’s dessert decisions sparked discontent. In reverse chronological order:

September 2019: The Points Guy reported that American had introduced a new type of chocolate chunk cookie, increased the quantities ordered and simultaneously removed the snickerdoodle from the options in domestic first class. Rubertino said the new cookie is considered an upgrade. “It’s slightly larger, has more of an aesthetically pleasing artisanal appearance, and it will also hold its shape well during the in-flight heating process,” she said in an email.

Not everyone was convinced.

“How is chocolate chunk more popular?” one comment asked. “Every flight I’ve been on they run out of Snickerdoodle and can’t give away the chocolate chip.”

June 2018: United announced that the Stroopwafel, a cookie-size “soft, toasted waffle filled with caramel” that was served on domestic flights leaving before 9:45 a.m., will exit the morning snack rotation. In its place: a maple wafer cookie. Although the airline said in a news release that the Stroopwafel would be back and stay on morning flights leaving Europe, travelers were not mollified. “United Airlines Stopped Serving Stroopwafels and People Are Pissed,” Food & Wine reported, adding: “Flying is canceled.”

Sure enough, months later, there was reason to rejoice: United announced in December the Stroopwafel would indeed return to domestic flights. And this July, United made the treat available any time of day.

December 2017: Alaska Air flight attendants opposed a plan to stop offering free Biscoff cookies on flights that leave after 10 a.m., according to the Seattle Times. The airline changed course but still told crew to limit the cookies to one packet a passenger — and only give them when requested. The debacle was named Cookiegate, the newspaper reported.

2014: American Airlines once served baked-on-board (not just warmed-on-board) chocolate chip cookies. But after the 2013 merger with US Airways, whose fleet had different oven setups, the new mega-airline decided to go for consistency in its cookie practices. After a “bunch of back and forth about the cookies,” says American spokesman Josh Freed, the decision was made: no more baking.

“This was, at the time, surprisingly controversial among frequent customers,” says Leff, who has chronicled airline cookie developments for years. He recalled one Facebook group of travelers with elite status whose members considered sending airline executives Easy-Bake ovens to register their ire.

April 2012: The fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies that were beloved by fans of Midwest Airlines went the way of, well, Midwest Airlines. The same holding company bought both Midwest and low-cost Frontier and then did away with the Midwest name (as well as, after time, the cookies). “It was determined that the cookie did not align with either the perception or the financial reality of a low-cost carrier,” a Frontier spokeswoman told the Denver Post.

One airline that hasn’t seen its cookie reputation crumble: Delta, which has offered the popular Biscoff cookies consistently since the early 1980s. The airline serves about 85 million packages a year and has even been known to make crowns of the cookies for passengers.

“Biscoff are a customer favorite,” spokeswoman Kate Modolo said in an email.

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