The news of the improved in-flight experience for business and first class customers through the extended partnership with Westin came at the same time as other news from United that as of Oct. 1, 2008, the carrier would eliminate complimentary meals on all flights between Washington (Dulles) and Europe (over 30 flights a day). The plan was to test charging for meals in coach international flights.
In a memo to employees, the airline said, “These changes are difficult but necessary, and we do not make them lightly. However, they enable us to reduce costs and generate additional revenue while preserving a differentiated product for our premium cabin customers.”
News of the changes by United dominated the United forum at FlyerTalk.com. In a single day, nearly 35,000 frequent flyers read about the topic and nearly 600 added comments. Many also wrote to the airline stating their discontent.
A couple of weeks later, United Mileage Plus members received an email stating that the test to charge for food on the international flights was to end before it began. The email stated that because of feedback from Mileage Plus members, the airline has “decided not to move forward with the test of offering customers buy-on-board options in United economy on certain trans-Atlantic flights. [The response] told us what we would have undoubtedly learned had we proceeded–you value our hot meal service in economy class for international flights.”
Other changes will still go into effect Oct. 1, including domestic business class customers on three-cabin aircraft receiving the same fresh food or SnackBox options that are available for purchase in economy for free, along with the current complimentary beverages, including beer, wine and cocktails.
Free snacks will be eliminated in the coach cabin of North American flights of under two hours, and the cost of in-flight snack boxes will go up from $5 to $6 and fresh food items from $7 to $9.
As one insightful FlyerTalk member pointed out when it looked like the free international meal might disappear: “Even if this has little impact in the short-term, I just don’t see where their future 1K and GS customers will come from. No one starts out their flying career in business and first and who, under 30 today, is going to grow loyalty to UA flying E or E+?” With this in mind, United made the right decision to rescind the test.