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Continental ending free meals for most domestic coach passengers

Continental Airlines, which has resisted a trend among its competitors to eliminate free food service, said Monday that it will discontinue free meals for coach passengers on most domestic flights in the fall.

Instead, coach passengers on domestic flights shorter than six hours and some flights to Canada and Mexico will be able to buy meals.

Officials will announce menu choices and pricing before the free meals end.

Continental, based in Houston, is one of the last major airlines to offer free meals, which typically include sandwiches, salads, a candy bar or chips. Continental said nixing the meals will save $35 million a year.

It will continue to serve free meals in first class and business class and to all passengers on most international flights. And it will provide complimentary nonalcoholic drinks and snacks like pretzels to passengers who don't get free meals.

"We are improving our economy meal service with a high-quality, industry-leading food-for-purchase program that is consistent with the strong brand image and high service standards for which our customers recognize us," said Jim Compton, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "Our traditional free-food model has served us well for many years, but we need to change to reflect today's market and customer preferences."

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