Yesterday United introduced illy as its new coffee partner and paradoxically, included this picture in its press release—
You see, United does not offer cappuccino or mocha onboard its flights.
Not that it couldn’t, mind you.
Much of the ex-Continental longhaul fleet is provisioned with coffee machines onboard to offer espresso and cappuccino. Unfortunately, under the reign of terror Jeff Smisek ordered that all of these machines be de-commissioned. Most are still onboard but sit idle and gathering dust.
United showed yesterday that it can do the little things right – by entering into a partnership with a respected coffee brand, it sent a message that it is listening to customers and turning over a new leaf from the hostile rule of King Jeff, in which elites were vilified as “over-entitled” and leadership was defined as mimicking Delta.
But while small steps should be celebrated, if United is truly serious about distinguishing itself from Delta and American and offering a quality product that people will pay to fly, it must do more.
One thing that distinguishes Austrian Airlines from the fierce completion in Europe is its onboard coffee menu, a separate menu that contains a wide assortment of coffee drinks. It is something I look forward to each time I fly Austrian and it something I mention to clients whenever they are considering a flight on Austrian.
I think a coffee menu on United would be a huge success and if economy class passengers were charged for premium drinks…they would pay. It could be as lucrative a business as selling alcohol.
I can imagine FA reaction already…complaining that they are not baristas…but most top-tier carriers offer at least a handful of coffee drinks and United must not be complacent that it is profiting in an era of reduced competition and unsustainably low oil prices.
Sure, a coffee menu would be great, but United does not even have to go that far to show that is really wants to deliver a higher quality onboard product – it can turn back on the existing machines and start using them again. Pressing a button is not so hard is it?
It’s just coffee, yes, but it is a sign of quality, customer-commitment, and luxury. United won’t win corporate contracts or high-value business travelers who will always book based upon schedule or negotiated price, but it will improve its brand image and earn loyalty among discretionary travelers.
Who would you fly for the same price? A carrier with lie-flat business class seats, friendly FAs, decent food, and good coffee or a carrier with lie-flat business class seats, friendly FAs, decent food, and bad coffee? All else equal, I like good coffee.