United Considers Charging for Meals Internationally, Drinks as Well

Oh me, oh my. Looks like United has been investigating following US Airways into the abyss of ancillary revenue and actually trying to surpass them. They’re floating a survey asking how people feel about paying for drinks in coach as well as food in coach on international flights. This may surprise you, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing in theory.

Here’s a nice summary picture of what they’re proposing for food sales. I should note that according to this FlyerTalk thread, they’re throwing up different prices for each product on different surveys to test price sensitivity.

United food charges

So, $24 for a freakin’ salad? No way. But that could just be one of their higher test price points. How about $39 for a “restaurant-style” meal? Ok, this is potentially interesting. I’m used to getting a crappy dish of mystery meat for free when flying internationally (they’re now proposing you could pay for that as well), but what if I could get a decent meal as long as I’m willing to pay for it? I like the idea, but there’s one problem.

If I were in a decent restaurant, $39 for a complete meal wouldn’t be outrageous at all, but I guarantee you it won’t taste that good onboard an airplane. Even more importantly, how are they going to prepare all this? You think that with all those flight attendant staffing cutbacks, United is going to be able to serve a restaurant-style meal? No way. You may order a restaurant-style meal, but you’ll end up with a reheated piece of meat that probably doesn’t end up as it should because the flight attendants don’t have the time and it’s not easy to make food taste good up there.

The biggest problem here is that if people are going to pay that much money for food, it creates an expectation, one that’s going to be hard for United to meet. Currently it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad because it’s included for free. I tend to think United will have a very tough time keeping people happy with these unless they can consistently deliver quality. I just don’t have faith that they can execute this well, and that’s going to sink this plan.

Oh, and by the way, while they are looking to charge for sodas, etc, they did make sure to carve out that filtered water would still be free. I wonder if by “filtered” they mean it’s had a chance to make its way through Emirates’ onboard showers?

Remember, this is just a survey right now, but it’s safe to assume that this is being seriously considered right now.

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