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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31 Comments on "United Considers Charging for Meals Internationally, Drinks as Well"

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Mark Ashley
Guest

I see we were on the same wavelength in the wee hours today. And congrats on the $24 salad. Mine was a mere $9. ;)
http://www.upgradetravelbetter.com/2008/08/04/united-considers-charging-for-all-food-and-drink-on-international-flights/

dan
Member

Last week some of the airline CEOs were on CNBC and complained about how foreign airlines are more popular for international travel than the US carriers, and they wonder why after things like this are released.

Anyways I was able to sample AF’s international coach meals back in April and I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were.

simon forbes
Guest

Maybe the thinking is that if the majority of the respondents reply with prices lower than United is suggesting, they’ll decide not to offer anything. Maybe they weren’t even serious anyway, and just put this out as a bit of fun to divert attention from something more, er, controversial…

Zach
Guest

$12 for standard coach dog food?

My response: LOL

james
Guest
“If I were in a decent restaurant, $39 for a complete meal wouldn’t be outrageous” In restaurants that price point includes ambiance, service, and an overall restaurant experience. Even the greenest of travelers knows it won’t happen in economy. Also regarding price: consider that many traveling are couples and families sharing the same budget, so in many cases the price points will be multiplied by two or more. That $15 sandwich, (which to me looks far more filling than the $39 rubbery steak with it’s scant side of potatoes and “grilled” veggies,) will end up being shy of $50 for… Read more »
jonathan reed
Guest

I can just see the hostility of the budget minded coach pax as the chap next to him tucks into a sirloin steak. Or the passive aggressive nature of the inside budget pax who needs to use the restroom just as the outside pax gets his “restaurant quality mean.” We are a society with a lot of inequality, but usually the affluent don’t rub it in the face of the less affluent as boldly as eating well sitting in uncomfortable intimacy with the poor guy who can’t afford the high priced airline food.

eponymous coward
Guest

Well, VX sells a lot of buy-on-board… but they don’t charge for soda. I also think the most expensive item on the menu is around $10 for the wrap or cheese plate.

Could they really stock and store extra items of what gets served in F or C? THAT I could see charging $30-40 for… but that also means cutlery, china and so on.

A
Guest

While I’m not entirely against the a la carte way of flying I am against the absolute ridiculous prices. It’s blatant soaking of a captive audience. I understand why restaurants in airport terminals are slightly more expensive and would pay a slightly higher price for food at 35,000 ft. But a $24 salad had better feed a family of 4 at that price. And, having experience with foreign carriers coach class food, United had better offer a cheaper fare if they want to charge for food on the same route and still compete.

QRC
Guest
Cranky, if this is implemented I see lawsuits on the horizon. SFO-HKG is 14 hours. No food for 14 hours..?!@ It’s not even like you can carry on a decent sandwich and expect it to be good 14 hours later. I think if UA insists on this, the best model for this is to build-in another $15 or $20 into each ticket, and then give each pax a choice online they can book before for what food option they want. Pax can also upgrade their meal onboard or online beforehand if they wish for addtl $$. Otherwise the 14 hours… Read more »
eponymous coward
Guest
Yeah, there is the factor of “Gee, I could fly LH/SQ/SK/AC on Star Alliance internationally, pay the same price, AND get fed.” When I went to Europe this winter, I was able to get an LH direct flight (PDX-FRA) for what I would have paid for a AA one-stop flight (SEA-DFW-FRA and FRA-ORD-SEA) that had an ugly 9 hour layover AND routing me through ORD on the way home (read: high chance of being hosed). So if the non-US carriers can still offer decent flying AND more amenities… I don’t know- maybe you can run international air service like Southwest… Read more »
jonathan reed
Guest
Just to follow up on my earlier comment. Imagine an extremely shapely beautiful young woman boarding the plane wearing a see-through dress with no underwear of any kind. Most of the other women will be annoyed over the “crime” of “flaunting.” If the same beautiful woman boards dressed in business attire the other woman are not upset, or if they feel less attractive in view of the comparison, they suppress the feeling. (And this is so even though the guys are taking rapt notice of the hourglass figure revealed by the business attire.) This is the problem of the $39… Read more »
james
Guest
Jonathon I don’t think the first analogy was lost on anyone – but I don’t see this as starting any class wars. To me the sandwich looks far better than the steak, and both will end up melding into the “airplane” food category at 40k feet anyway. If anything people like me will feel smug and haughty watching people swipe credit cards for $50-74 (to eat AIRPLANE food,) while I eat cheese, crackers, apples and my own healthy tupperwarable non-liquid/gel items I’ve brought along with me. Which brings up a much more critical by-product if this happens: More people bringing… Read more »
gersov
Member
Many airlines have Buy on Board now and it doesn’t insult me if someone spends money at the food cart. I bring some food and think about how much I’m saving. So it works both ways. I also doubt the airlines can serve a nice gourmet meal to economy passengers, but to Cranky’s point about expectations, if I walk into a restaurant and order a nice steak and trimmings, it’s hard to get through these days for under $50 once taxes and tip are added in. Have you seen the price of good cuts of beef these days? So a… Read more »
Anon Coward
Guest
Good points in particular by brother Eponymous. I just wonder who will pay these crazy prices. The food will not be as good as it looks in the survey (note the steak dinner and probably others are only stock images) and won’t taste good. I’d rather have a can of Slim Jims, at least I know how those are going to taste and I don’t feel ripped off. I was offered the $9 salad and thought that was pushing it. The downward spiral will just continue, because, lets face it, even if they’re getting $9 for the salad, they’re still… Read more »
jim sack
Member

I prefer what I bring on with me anyway, and I guess there are those at one or more airlines who are contemplating the “insurance risks” or the “health problems” of allowing us to bring on our own food all in a way of making us even more captive. I would guess they are trying to narrow our choices to what they offer as a way of increasing their income. First they introduce exorbitant prices for margin quality food and they they restrict carry on vittles.

John
Guest
I’ve been a legacy carrier flight attendant for ten years. Seeing a major airline charge for soda, even just a year ago, is something I thought I’d never see. Over at US Airways, now if you want a soda or a cup of coffee, you have to shell out a buck or two–that’s one thing. I don’t like the idea….(I feel that passengers traveling by air already have enough hassle to go through these days…even before they get on the plane)….HOWEVER, at least the prices over at US aren’t an absolute ripoff either. A bottle of water on USAir is… Read more »
Erik
Guest
This comes down to the importance of meals on long-haul flights. Like you Brett, I live in Los Angeles. I’ve taken the nonstop LAX-LHR route many times on every airline that flies that route (except the recently started Air France service). It’s about 11-12 hours. Just like you need two or three movies to keep you entertained, more importantly, you need two or three meals to keep you nourished and non-cranky. While one can get away with buying a stale sandwich at the deli on the way to the airport for a 5 hour transcon flight, there just isn’t a… Read more »
PF
Guest

In response to Eponymous Coward’s statement “. . .Southwest runs their domestic routes (you get a seat and nothing else)”. On Southwest, you get a comfortable coach seat, beverage (which US charges for), peanuts/pretzels or a snack of choice (which several others are now charging for), a blanket if desired, a pillow (which JetBlue is now charging for), and reliable consistent service. Much more than a seat and nothing else. I’ll take Southwest anytime – no surprises.

eponymous coward
Guest

Southwest’s model works great on short hop flights on a 737.

They don’t run international long haul on twin-aisle 747/777/A340/A380s, where the flights are 12+ hours long.

THAT’s my point.

Yo
Guest
How about take and go food at the airport from vendors that don’t sell reheated meaty treats made out of vague congealed substances? A restaurant at the gates with $2 sliders, or 3 tamales for 2 bucks, or something like that, quick, portable, and cheap. I can live with buying food and drinks on the plane, but, by GOD, lets not go the Ryanair route and eliminate seat pockets and reclining seats and pitch that would be uncomfortable on a slave ship. Next flight of over 3 hours for me is just gonna be on tranqulizers for me. If I’m… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
Where to start, where to start. First, a personal opinion. My choice of meal is not dictated by whether or not the guy next to me is offended by my extravagance (or stupidity) in paying the highest price for the highest possible quality. There is no flaunting here, unless the guy buying the steak does a spot-on Eddie Murphy Ice Cream routine. As for anybody traveling on even a professional budget in today’s economy, a $40 meal may be considered an extravagance on the ground, much less on an airplane. Find out what your corporate travel policy says and get… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
It would be one thing on the long haul International flights if they charged you say $40.00 period and you still get all the meals in flight you get now for that one price. It would be no different then an all you can eat Sunday buffet brunch at some high end Hotel. But a high cost per meal will not go over well with the public. I know if I had to pay a lot per meal that meal better be prepared the way I like it and serviced in the style it would be on the ground (like… Read more »
Tony
Guest

LOL…charging for meals in coach on an international flight, what a hoot.

Boy oh boy, Openskies II is sooo gonna be ratified in 2009.

Greg
Guest

Just disappointing to see something like this come from an airline that was for decades a proud bird to fly on.

jim sack
Member
Okay, so we have all lamented or lampooned the idea. I will just carry my food and drink with me. Perhaps that is just better, but I know it will be messier, in many ways. I will fly to Istanbul this October. When I arrive in Detroit from Fort Wayne I will pray to cross the Atlantic in a KLM flight, not a Northwest flight. Why can (or do) the European carriers, in general, provide nicer service than their American counterparts? The Northwest cabin staff are less polished and less respectful than their KLM counterparts. I wonder why? Can somebody… Read more »
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[…] > United considers charging for meals internationally, drinks as well. [The Cranky Flier] […]

Geoff Arnold
Guest
I just landed at SEA after traveling 24 hours from MAA via FRA on Lufthansa. First leg was in business, second in coach. Each leg we had two hot meals, unlimited drinks (alcoholic and soft), and little touches like complimentary gourmet chocolates. In both classes. Now, each of these flights was also sold as a UA code-share. If United goes down this nickel-and-dime path, the differences between the quality of the UA and LH products will become even wider than it is today, and this is going to make code-sharing problematic. If you were LH, would you want an LH… Read more »
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[…] soft and alcoholic drinks during the 9+ hour flight from FRA to SEA. This at the same time that United is reportedly exploring the possibility of charging for food on intercontinental flights. (They already charge for alcoholic beverages in economy.) If they do […]

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
Jim Sack, to Asians, service is extremely cultural. To Europeans, it is highly professional (and in Britain, just plain good manners). To US based airlines, service now is largely contractual. Entire articles have been written about the tradition of service in Europe and the actual culture of service in Asia versus the very American “Every man for himself” mythos dating back to the founding of the country. Waiting tables in many European countries is a life long profession, even an aspiration in some circles. Pixar based a film around the art of cooking, where the art of serving is taken… Read more »
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[…] booked in economy. This is what was rumored around a bit a couple weeks back when United started sending out surveys. At least they’re not cutting free meals for the Asian flights though. The memo does […]

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