United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek promised USD$2 Billion in cuts at the last shareholders’ meeting and the process has already begun. First, route cuts. Next, a threatened furlough of legacy United flight attendants (more on that in a future post). Now, a cutback in economy class meal service.
On Flyertalk, a United flight attendant posted this snippet from the November 20, 2013 issue of Inflight Services Weekly:
Offering Choice Menu in select Latin markets
Beginning Dec. 1, all flights to/from Port of Spain, Panama, Bogota and Quito will transition from a complimentary meal to Choice Menu in United Economy. This change was made after analysis by Latin sales, Marketing, Food Services and Inflight Services. With this transition, all North and Latin American markets will offer Choice Menu; however, Caracas and long-haul South America (Peru, Argentina and Brazil), will remain complimentary. As an exception, on these routes, fresh food items will be available on red eye flights.
- Choice Menu carts will be identified by colored seals making it easy to take inventory correctly.
- On flights without fresh food: Place one drawer of Snack Shop items and one drawer of snack boxes on top of the cart.
- On flights with fresh food items (Bistro on Board) and Snack Shop items: Place a Snack Shop drawer on top of the fresh food cart.
- There are approximately five re-usable menu cards inside the Snack Shop cart you can share with customers upon request. The menu has a Latin America market section translated in Spanish. Be sure to return all items to their respective carts, including cutlery packets to Snack Shop carts, as they are round-tripped.
Dec. 1. Catering Change – International United economy cocktail snacks
To help offset increasing costs, we will no longer offer cocktail snacks in United Economy on international flights. This change will be implemented gradually as current inventory is depleted. Continue to conduct a pre-meal beverage service on lunch and dinner flights, when scheduled.
United remains committed to offering customers high-quality options that they value and are willing to pay for.
- No more complimentary meals on most Central-American and Northern South America routes (wtih an exception for Caracas)
- Peru, Argentina, and Brazil will still have meal service
- No more pretzels in economy class before meal service
These are not huge cutbacks, but mark an odd decision to further differentiate United from its competitors in a negative way. Delta, for example, manages to serve snacks like cookies and pretzels not only on its international flights in economy class (where it also offers complimentary beer and wine and a printed menu), but even on domestic flights.
A death by a thousand cuts will never work without sinking the airline. United must offer a quality product that people are willing to pay for, much like Delta has done. Delta may have the stingiest loyalty program in America, but they offer a very good in-flight product including internet onboard most aircraft and a quality of food that far exceeds United. And it makes a good profit and pays its workers well.
United must fundamentally re-examine the way it has chosen to conduct business. Its shift toward transactional loyalty has driven away customers at the margin who do have a choice of air travel and are now looking to American Airlines or Delta because of the continued cutbacks at United. Until United realizes that there are no winners in a race to the bottom, news like this will be laughed at, as the once-great airline continues to lose its lustre.