United’s Meal Charges Earn the Cranky Jackass Award

United really is a sad, confused airline, isn’t it? For an airline that just two days ago stated that it had put together several “initiatives . . . to improve the guest experience,” yesterday’s announcement seems completely out of place. 06_09_12 jackassBut knowing United’s history of schizophrenia, I suppose this shouldn’t surprise us at all. This airline is a mess, and this latest move is certainly worthy of a Cranky Jackass award.

So what did they do? Well remember that post I wrote about United surveying people about their willingness to pay for meals internationally? It’s coming to fruition. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Instead of explaining it all here, I’ll just quote an internal memo with the cringe-worthy title of “Catering Changes Provide Value and Options.” Ugh.

Effective Sept. 2

North America United Economy® (UE) -All Markets

  • Expanding a la carte snacks for purchase to flights between 760 -1149 miles (approximately 2-3 hours in duration) as a result of successful testing in select markets. Along with the expansion, we’re removing complimentary biscoff and pretzels as data from those tests confirmed that the a
    la carte offering appeals to our customers and they are willing to pay for snacks of higher value.
  • Continuing test of a fresh Buy on Board offering along with the current snack box on flights between 1440 – 2099 miles (approximately 3.5 – 5 hours in duration). Testing limited to ORD-LAX-ORD and DEN-IAD-DEN.

That’s right. No more snacks onboard medium-range flights. But believe me, this is nothing compared the rest of the things here. In fact, this one didn’t even make me blink.

Effective Oct. 1

Increasing Buy on Board Prices

  • Shelf-stable items increase from $5 to $6.
  • Fresh items increase from $7 to $9.

That’s one way to raise cash. Just raise your prices. These aren’t exactly competitive (Delta will still give you a turkey sandwich for $7), but nobody is going to compare meal prices when they choose their airline. They really are trying to ease us into the worst stuff, aren’t they? Let’s move on.

Offering Two-Class Service on North America Three-Class Airplanes

  • United First® service remains the same.
  • A combined BOB service will be offered in United Business® (UB) and United Economy® (UE).
  • Customers in UB will receive complimentary beverages and BOB offering.
  • Staffing will be adjusted to FAA minimums.

Ok, this is insane. On some flights between hubs, United offers service on its internationally-configured aircraft. That means that instead of the usual mediocre domestic first class seat, you get a nice international product in first and business. Now, they’re giving up on business class on those aircraft by making the seat the only differentiator between coach and business. Oh and you’ll get the food and drink for free in business, but it’s the same stuff you can buy in the back of the bus. Staffing will be reduced to FAA minimums meaning that you’ll have about the same level of service as you get in coach (down 1 or 2 flight attendants on each flight).

I understand that this will save the airline a minuscule $2 million a year. That is a drop in the bucket in terms of the bottom line, but it’ll certainly anger people who end up in that “premium” cabin on domestic flights. If they really wanted to simplify things, they should sell the business seats as coach and upgrade their best fliers. It could be sort of an Economy Plus Plus. At least then they’d be underpromising and overdelivering, but no. They’re being greedy here and it’s going to backfire.

Buy on Board Offered Out of IAD to Europe (except KWI)

  • Replacing complimentary meals in UE with BOB fresh and snack box offerings.

Had I seen this one from US Airways, I wouldn’t have even blinked. It’s consistent with what they’re trying to be. I know that United sent out surveys asking about people’s thoughts on this, but I guarantee you that they’ve tossed out the undoubtedly negative results of that survey and decided to go with this anyway. It’s just incredible to me. And yes, I’ve confirmed with United spokesperson Robin Urbanski that elites are not exempt. They will have to buy meals just like everyone else if they’re in coach.

Eliminate Second Service in p.s. Market

  • Removing the pre-arrival snack service and replacing with a beverage service in response to flight attendant and customer feedback.

Now when you fly p.s. between LA or San Francisco and New York/JFK in business and first, you’ll get your first meal but you won’t get a second service. (Meals in the small Economy Plus section were eliminated awhile ago.) I’d like to see the customer feedback that says that people don’t want a snack; they’d rather just have a beverage. Please. Don’t try and hide behind that one as your rationale.

United Public Service Announcement

So there you have it. The death by a thousand cuts strategy continues. Like I said, if I saw this from US Airways, I wouldn’t blink. (They’ll probably match.) But this is United. This is the airline that just released those ridiculous animated commercials that tried to set the mood for a premium, luxurious experience when you fly. That is NOT the airline that is actually being presented to the flying public. This is an airline that appears to have early stage dementia and can’t quite remember what it’s supposed to be doing half the time. Somewhere an Indian is crying. (He’ll probably tell you through his thick Indian accent that his name is Bob Smith and he works in a United reservations center, but that’s not important right now.)

If you want to make it clear to United that you want a better, more consistent experience that actually lives up to (or, *gasp* exceeds) your expectations, you need to switch your spending and actually fly on an airline (like the soon-to-be Star Alliance member Continental) that can deliver. So far, United has proven that it can’t do it, over and over again. Just remember, words won’t change a thing here. Shifting your business elsewhere will.

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50 Comments on "United’s Meal Charges Earn the Cranky Jackass Award"

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Danie
Member

FAA minimums would mean 1 or 2 flight attendants per flight? Not sure on that. Canadian minimums (which usually mimic U.S. minimums) dictate at least 3 flight attendants on your average Boeing 737

Zach
Guest

Do you think that Continental will follow suit?

The elimination of complimentary meal service to Europe is mind-boggling. I haven’t memorized their route structure, but does this mean that on a flight comparable to, say, IAD-Moscow (almost 10 hours–not sure if United flies this route or not, but I digress…), people are forced to either starve or spend $10 on a stale turkey sandwich?

Skinny
Guest

Down 1 or 2 flight attendants, not down to 1 or 2 flight attendants.

Michael Parker
Guest

Woah. No free meal on a trans-Atlantic? Un-ber-lievable.

What makes this even worse is that it’ll mean we won’t be surprised when Ryanair launches a no-frills trans-Atlantic.

Zach
Guest

Michael,

Ryanair should do just that–offer no-frills transatlantic service and join the Star Alliance so that I can still earn miles by flying with them instead of United ;-)

While no meal on trans-atlantic flights is appalling, I’m even more put off by United’s false advertising (which Cranky points out in his post). No-frills long-haul travel isn’t an awful idea (see Freddy Laker), but let’s call a spade a spade here. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes.

Bobber
Guest

Business suicide, this is. Maybe, they’ll give me a free meal if I continue not to check bags in on transatlantic flights. I don’t understand United. They’ve never been as glitzy as Virgin, or as esteemed as Lufthansa (for e.g.), but I have always found them professional, competitive and (almost always in my experience) on-time. Do these guys like Chapter 11 or something??

Ryanair are (allegedly) already planning a transatlantic service. Can’t wait.

Not.

Zach
Guest

Thanks for the response, Cranky. I would seriously consider switching my allegiance to Continental, but sadly, I live in a United/American town. I’ve been toying with the idea of making American my airline of choice, but everytime I fly them, I’m reminded why I won’t. I wish Southwest would start international service (ha).

Shane
Guest
How much chaos is going to be on board the flight? Are they only going to accept US Dollars? Will they both to make the investment in credit card machines so that “meal” service doesn’t take 4 hours? Probably the best protest (other than using another airline which in many cases is not possible/allowable/viable) would be for everybody to use $20 bills so that they run out of change and have to give the food away. Unless they specify otherwise before your purchase, they have to accept any form of US cash per federal law regardless of how many $1… Read more »
james
Guest

Shane I would guess it will be entirely cashless. A few other U.S. airlines already employ this.

As for me I’ll continue to have a small stock of apples/bananas/powerbars, and nuts in my messenger bag. My nutritional needs aren’t dependent on a tiny bag of pretzels.

Unfortunately we’ll be subjected to more of one of my major annoyances: The stench of hour old McDonalds burgers and fries congealing in a greasy paper bag. God help us.

Chad Perry
Guest

Check out this funny parody about no-frills flying at http://parodyandson.blogspot.com

Axelsarkiss
Member

god. now we cant even eat when we pay 200$+ for a crappy seat in economy.

Ps.
do tou know that a md-82 crashed today at Madrid Barajas (MAD)?

Oliver
Guest
I am not flying much out of IAD, and in the last year my five or six trips to Europe have all been in C (mostly upgraded). But let’s say I have to fly from the east coast to FRA. Assume further that the basic ticket price is the same between UA (IAD-FRA) and CO (IAD-EWR-FRA). I could choose UA and fly in E+. I’d then incurr an extra $9 for a meal on board or eat prior to departure and bring some snacks. Or I could fly in CO’s regular economy seat and get the included-in-the-fare airline economy meal.… Read more »
Henry Harteveldt
Member

I am a United Global Service 1K member. I -buy- premium tickets. I just checked my 2007 credit card invoices. My business is worth roughly $65-75,000/year to UA. So now, when I (or my company) buys me a domestic business class ticket, on flights other than p.s., UA will have the gall to tell me to fork over money for a BOB meal? Or offer me the BOB product?

United, you are going to lose some of your best customers, starting with me.

asad
Guest

My group does a lot of flying, we have 3 1k members and 3 people who are exec premier. We all took the survey and thought nothing would come of it, as much as I like my miles when I travel on my own $ I will be flying a different airline from now on. Jet Blue/American Virgin for US flights and probably a different international carrier for overseas flights.
It’s ridiculous that they value whatever customer good will they have at less than 2 million a year.

Axelsarkiss
Member

Thank You, CF

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[…] does a full overview of the changes United is now implmenting in its service, but here are the […]

rayuribe
Member

Southwest going International? Please, please don’t throw Southwest into that Briar Patch!

euroschu
Member

I can’t wait to see how many of the Star Alliance frequent fliers refuse to give their business to United and opt for the other partners.

The best thing that could happen to UA — and Star for that matter — is to liquidate this mess. Amazing how far the once proud have fallen.

A
Guest

If I ever have to take UA across the pond I’ll make a point to bring aboard the most greasy and messy food I can find in the whole terminal. I imagine that many others would be doing the same. Which reminds me of the CNBC special “A week in the life of AA.” The maintenance guy said he believes people bring tools aboard given some places he’s found chewing gum. Can only imagine how filthy UA planes will be with everyone bringing snacks, candy and food of all types aboard.

Marc
Guest

As a former Premier Exec member it has been really distressing (but not surprising) to watch United’s demise.

I’m thankful I don’t have to travel for business much anymore and while I still have just over 100k in frequent flyer miles in my account, when I do travel lately I look for alternatives to United

Any predictions on how long they’ll be viable?

trackback

[…] If you have miles accumulated in United’s Mileage Plus program, now’s the time to use them up – preferably on Star Alliance partner flights. Because you won’t want to be flying United from now on…. The Cranky Flier has more. […]

bridgercan
Guest

Those fools in Elk Grove! Could UA management shoot themselves in the foot any worse if they tried? Schizophrenic is right — a US Ryanair or a LH wannabe? Figure it out United! Be one thing or the other. And stop with those wasteful and ridiculous TV animated ads.

Albert
Guest

Wow. Better start looking for US flights where possible instead of UA for my round-the-US of A trip at the end of the year.

Xnuiem
Member

And my peers and team members laugh at me when I fly WN out of DAL instead of UA or AA out of DFW. At least I know I am getting good service, better on-time performance, free snacks, and earn free trips way faster (especially on BS).

Someone remind me, why exactly do we call them “no-frills airlines”? At this point isn’t it just “airlines” and “airlines”? Is there even a difference anymore?

Rico
Guest

Wow, why don’t they shut down their booking engine and replace with a simple ‘Customer? $%!§ off you stupid…’. I’ll fly with UA in Dec to Europe. And I thought I buy a product that includes a meal, actually I think this is even confirmed in my booking. LH won’t be very pleased handling all the hungry-angry customers, that booked a LH code and starved over the ocean.

Yo
Guest

I have no desire to fly Untied.

I can understand having crap while non reving, but when I buy a ticket, it will be on a foreign carrier.

David SF eastbay
Member

Pity the people who think they are flying Lufthansa only to find themselves on a LH/UA codeshare flight operated by United and have to buy a meal. United’s international pay for food operation is going to cause passenger backlash to the international Star Alliance carriers that codeshare with UA. This seems like another reason to fly on non-U.S. international carriers.

trackback

Ted’s Revenge (or how United is making a HUGE mistake)…

An upcoming major announcement by United leaked yesterday. It comes from a flight attendant newsletter and details some major changes to United’s on-board meal services. You might think of it as the return of Ted. Or at least Ted’s Revenge. No more h…

Greg
Guest

Truly worthy of a Cranky Jackass award. In fact, if you had one, it would be worthy of a Jackass Plus award (and since United is home of economy plus, it would be very fitting). United and US Airways are fighting each other to the bottom. There should be a new category for these two – LSC – Low Service Carrier.

jxs
Guest

united has lost my buisness

swintner
Member

HA — I think this move is less business suicide and more a reflection of UA’s desperate struggle to stay alive! The decision to go under isn’t UA’s to make at this point… an act this insane means they must think they have nothing left to lose!

Artie
Guest
I just can’t help but wonder whether Continental went to the Star Alliance with United Airlines in order to allow for a smooth transition of UA customers to Continental service when UA finally bites the dust. Schedules will already be synced, UA passengers will have experienced Continental service on codeshares, and FF will have earned many points available for use on Continental flights. I’m not an airline analyst or blogger, but before people blogged about it, I was definitely telling my friends the baggage fees were probably to reduce fuel use on baggage weight rather than to generate stand alone… Read more »
Andrew
Guest

“Tip of the iceberg”. Very good. Tip of the iceberg lettuce.

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[…] even earned the coveted Cranky Jackass Award from the Cranky […]

Benji
Guest
I don’t know why everyone is complaining about loss of meals on trans-Atlantic flights… JFK-LAX takes just about the same amount of time as JFK-LHR, and you’re not offered a meal domestically. I think we should be complaining about lack of a free meal (even if people complain about the quality) for flights over a certain duration, not just the ones to Europe. But yes, this is a totally bone-headed move by United. I think CF had a great point when he said there’s a difference between paying for services not previously available and paying to keep services that were… Read more »
Ross
Guest

Well, they’ve answered our question:

“Only cash is accepted at this time. Your flight attendant will advise which selections are available on your flight.”

http://www.united.com/page/article/0,6722,51284,00.html

I can see this causing absolute chaos.

eponymous coward
Guest

You know, VX flies IAD/JFK-SFO/LAX. Oh, and they are about to add ORD.

I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence.

trackback

[…] with the new fees for meals, passengers will no longer have as many flight attendants on-board. Cranky Flier reports that United may be decreasing the number of flight attendants in the coach cabin, of […]

Bobber
Guest

United 0919 LHR to IAD 6th Nov.
Fare basis code: Booking class: V
Economy
3,677 Award miles
**Food for Purchase, Food for Purchase**

B8stards! Got to bring my own sarnies now as well, having spent $1600 on a LHR-IAD-GIG-IAD-LHR itinerary. The IAD-LHR return leg does not have the same entry regarding paying for ‘food’. Shall I plan on bringing my own toilet paper as well??

Bobber
Guest

Surely $6, €4 or £3 for a pee, Cranky??

trackback

[…] has decided not to begin charging for meals in coach on transatlantic flights from Washington as previously announced. Of course, the question now is . . . why? United wants you to think it was all in the name of […]

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[…] to United – as several travel bloggers have been pointing out (see here and here, for example), the latest cutbacks represent a new low for the already-low U.S. airlines. […]

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