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United's Food Service Changes . . . Again

Christina Talcott

United Airlines has just announced that it's dropping its experiment to charge customers for food on transatlantic flights.

The airline was planning to stop serving free food on flights from Dulles to Europe beginning Oct. 1, testing out customers' reactions before it started charging for meals on all transatlantic flights. But this afternoon the company announced that it's canceling the pilot project and will continue to feed Europe-bound fliers.

However, Bloomberg reported this afternoon that the United's still cutting some food services: "The carrier today also ended coach-class free snacks on domestic flights of more than two hours, after earlier dropping them on shorter routes. Snacks now can be purchased, a change the carrier expects will generate $1.7 million in annual revenue, [United Airlines spokesperson Robin] Urbanski said."

Turns out the airlines do listen to feedback, at least in this case. How do you feel about United reversing its decision?

By Christina Talcott |  September 3, 2008; 7:28 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Airline Industry , Airplanes , Christina Talcott , Dining , Europe
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United's initial decision to drop meals on international flights was a potential scary precedent and I am glad to see that they opted to maintain the status quo. Not that coach meals are anything special, but in my experience on these routes they are not terrible either.

With regard to snacks on long domestic flights, I really wonder whether $1.5-2M is worth the ill will that comes with the change. I don't fly SWA, USA 3000, Airtran or Spirit, but know that some of the "frills" get lost with discount carriers. However, legacy carriers need something to distinguish themselves from other airlines and this is just petty IMO. At the same time, I was surprised on a recent trip on US Airways to Cancun (via Charlotte) that passengers had no problem paying for soft drinks and water and the FAs told me that they are collecting $200-300 per flight and don't get a lot of complaints.

Posted by: More Cowbell | September 3, 2008 9:29 AM

I think I am never flying on United. The fact that they thought of this in the first place and that they are making it a money-maker to feed people on long flights when there are few other options for travelers tells me what they are: bottom-line centered and damn the passengers.

Posted by: Bev | September 3, 2008 9:58 AM

I don't plan to fly on United unless that's the only way I can get somewhere I want to go. I normally bring my own snacks, which are healthier anyway. Will they still let us do that, or will we have to buy snacks inside the terminal? Because of medical conditions, some of us have to eat every three hours. I would hate to have some security officer throw me on the ground to take away my apple or orange or granola bar.

Posted by: Dixie | September 3, 2008 11:35 AM

I feel that on flights that depart after 9pm, there is no reason for airlines to serve a meal. Arrival 7 hr. later is no different than sleeping through the night. Longer flights might require a breakfast.

I also feel that if transatlantic flights between US and Europe are during the day, then the appropriately timed meal should be served.

Posted by: Terry | September 3, 2008 11:48 AM

If you bring your own food and refuse their reheated lasagna, will they give you a refund of a portion of your ticket? Or will you be forced to pay for this airline meal whether you eat it or not?

Posted by: Tom | September 3, 2008 12:38 PM

I just lost 400 mile points to subscribe to a magazine I have no interest in so I do not lose my frequent flier miles and then I read they were stopping the meal in economy! I feel when you are in enough discomfort and on a long flight (which is probably delayed while you are sitting on the plane) you deserve to be fed. I am just surprised United listened to the comments and acted positively.

Posted by: M J Wyatt | September 3, 2008 12:44 PM

I have to eat in the morning before taking medications. AFter having to search a city late at night for some place to purchase something to take on the plane the next day to insure I had food, I am totally over the airlines and their cheap ways. More than one time they have ran out of food. EArly in the morning no terminal food operations are open.

What will it take. People geting sick from dehydration before the stupidity of these actions is realized.

Flying use to be a pleasure. Now it is torture.

Posted by: Jean Moses | September 3, 2008 12:55 PM

Truly, where are airlines headed these days?? The experimental consideration of charging for food when you're on a 7-8 hour flight? That's borderline inhumane. Regardless of the time of day, some people are unable to sleep on flights.
Charging for a meal insinuates that we have the "option" to eat during that time period if we like. And that length of time is unreasonable. Do we not take lunch breaks during our 9-5's?
And "More Cowbell"--I really don't think the distinction between Discount and Premium airlines exists anymore. Oh yes there is: half of the Premium airlines are merging and declaring bankruptcy while charging for checked baggage, fountain drinks, and peanuts. They no longer offer pillows and blankets, and there's a fee for everything from getting the exit row to taking a tissue from the restroom. While the Discount airlines have managed their money wiser by not splurging on the unnecessary "frills", and do not offer assigned seating. Hey, at least with them, I can get a free pillow and Sprite on my 3 hour flight.

Posted by: Fem | September 3, 2008 12:58 PM

Free peanuts aren't free to start with. That cost is factored in to your ticket price somewhere, somehow. Keep 'em. I'll bring my own snacks.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 3, 2008 3:46 PM

Actually most european flights are red eye flights where they depart in the evening from the east coast ad arrive in western europe in the early hours of the morning so most people will be sleeping on the aircraft.

Actually its illegal to charge for water.

Posted by: DJP (Seattle) | September 3, 2008 4:54 PM

Actually most european flights are red eye flights where they depart in the evening from the east coast ad arrive in western europe in the early hours of the morning so most people will be sleeping on the aircraft.

Posted by: DJP (Seattle) | September 3, 2008 4:54 PM

Actually, half the European flights are from Europe back to the U.S.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 4, 2008 8:01 AM

A family member of mine is a pilot for United. Since Glenn Tilton took over they have robbed the employees of half their salaries and their pensions and squeezed the passengers for every dime they can get. Tilton does not know the difference between a quality legacy airline and a cut rate, small time commuter airline. No one seems to be commenting on the fact that while he is charging for bags of peanuts, soft drinks, and terrible food, he took a $39 million bonus this past year for doing a great job. Come on people!!!!! Wake up!! Take this for what it is--he is ripping you off so he can arrange for another big bonus for himself and the YES men that work for him!!!! Just say NO to United!!

Posted by: CBN | September 4, 2008 10:43 AM

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