Both Rocky and Sriram have sampled American Airlines’ new onboard premium class menu, effective 01 September 2014, and both found it to be supremely lacking. They are not the only ones, for I have not read one positive review of the new meal policy. Meanwhile, United Airlines has announced a true enhancement in in-flight meal service, adding meals to shorter flights that do not currently offer meals and making the menu more attractive. Polling consistently finds that travelers do not choose airlines based upon meals, yet annoy a high-value business traveler with a bagged finger sandwich on a flight of nearly three hours and s/he just might look for greener pastures. United has a chance to capitalize on this discontent if it can market itself as catering to business travelers without the nickel-and-diming.
United’s Enhanced Onboard Meal Service
There is no downside to United’s new meal service – only good. Here are the changes that are coming:
Mainline premium cabins within the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, and most of Mexico:
- New short and mid-haul salads and sandwiches: Beginning now, all-new salads and sandwiches, which will be served chilled or warmed depending on flight distance and departure time. These new meals will be offered during lunch and dinner times on flights between 900 and 1,299 miles, and during lunch time on flights between 1,300 and 2,299 miles. Prior to your meal United will offer warmed nuts and a beverage. All freshly prepared salad and sandwich entrees will be paired with a gluten-free soup, bread, and a warmed cookie for dessert.
- Sparkling wine in North America: Beginning this fall, Prosecco sparkling wine will be available in North America mainline premium cabins.
- Refresh for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack flights: Through 2015 new menus for remaining markets.
- Expansion of meals to shorter-haul flights: Starting in November, United will be reintroducing full meal service on additional shorter haul flights during meal times. With the exception of some competitive routes, UA serves meals on flights of 900 miles or more. Soon, flights of 800 miles or more will receive meal service (which adds meal service to 13 routes)
- Increased menu variety: An increase in the frequency of menu changes so that you see new options more often.
United Express premium cabins:
- “Significant” improvements on the way: No speciifc details but a promise of premium cabin dining on United Express in 2015 by introducing fresh meal options.
United Economy on long-haul international flights:
- Enhanced food and beverage options in 2015: Improved food and beverage experience in United Economy on long-haul international flights.
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The new salads and sandwiches sound like a nice change of pace to the current tired wraps/burritos and chicken salad that we have seen the last few years and I’ve already tried the new hot chicken & swiss cheese focaccia as an economy BOB meal on a recent flight and thought it was delicious–
My Tips for United
Here is how United can distinguish itself –
1. Highlight the New Meals – The difference between a bagged sandwich and warmed nuts, a hot sandwich or salad, soup, and a hot cookie on a flight of almost three hours is worth advertising.
2. Free Wi-Fi and streaming IFE in Premium Cabins – I foresee wi-fi onboard airplanes evolving in the way hotel wi-fi has – customers will one day expect it for free and as operating costs drop, that will be possible. United is already introducing complimentary streaming IFE on select flights and is slowly catching up to the competition in offering Wi-Fi on most aircraft. By offering a password-based complimentary Wi-Fi to premium cabin customers, it can further make the case for being the airline for business travellers.
3. Friendly, On-Time Service – Yes, the most important thing and the thing that United has sadly struggled so much with since the merger. Yet I see this as the easiest thing to fix.
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I don’t think I have ever written that while AA cuts back, UA adds on – but this is a nice development and a chance for UA to win back some business (and leisure) travellers.