There was no formal announcment, but in fine print on the United Airlines North American premium cabin dining webpage, the following has appeared:
*Effective May 1, 2014, we no longer offer special meals on flights between New York/Newark and San Francisco or Los Angeles. Special meal requests will not be accepted after March 13, 2014.
I will speculate here: I think the bigger issue is not just the elimination of special meals–quite imprudent as I argue below–but that this likely foreshadows a downgrade of overall meal service on these (no longer) premium routes.
Currently between LAX/SFO and EWR, menus are distributed with three entree choices and an appetizer is included in the lunch and dinner service that does not appear on non-premium transcon routes. The main courses are identical to the entrees served on longhaul international flights and tend to be much better tasting than “domestic” United meals. Meals are also plated and the appetizer and salad is served as a separate course.
We will see what happens, but I cannot imagine United would eliminate special meals on this route if it was not also going to eliminate premium meal service. With AA dropping service between LAX-EWR and UA now competing only with Virgin, it is in a position to get away with this and will not eliminate special meals on flights between LAX/SFO and JFK.
I maintain that United is hurting itself terribly in pursuing $2BN in cost cuts as its competitors improve both soft and hard product, and this is just another example. Delta and American offer special meals on similar routes (AA offers special meals on most routes with meal service) and it seems to me that United has again underestimated that many passengers flying from LAX or SFO via its Newark hub to points beyond buy business class tickets and will be less likely to do so if they cannot even get a special meal on 5.5hr flight.
I book many clients from LA to Tel Aviv via Newark on United who keep kosher and now I will have to advise them to bring their own food–or book on another carrier.
Offering special meals is a matter of respect–not just for religious meals, but dietary/health reasons as well–and United’s choice to further eliminate special meals on hub-to-hub routes will just anger more customers and make the competition more attractive.