Continental Ramps Up Investment in Premium Class Meal Service

The Houston Chronicle, umm, chronicles Continental’s push to improve its premium cabin catering. They spoke to me about the efforts, and while I caveated that I’m not a frequent Continental flyer,

  • Continental remains the only carrier serving complimentary meals in domestic coach, whatever you may think of those offerings.
  • Meals don’t generate incremental flights, very few people get on a plane just to eat the food!
  • Non-stop service drives most decisions, but when connecting the biggest consideration is seat — followed by quality in soft product.
  • Attracting premium passengers is all about generating the expectation (and delivery) of a comfortable, stress-free experience. The quality of service, the small touches, airport ground handling, and food are all a part of seamless execution that draws a revenue premium.Celebrity chefs are pure marketing. They’re a signal that the airline is investing in meal quality, but the airline has to deliver. The two aren’t always related at all, as any United flier knows that ever tried a Charlie Trotter meal onboard (yuck!).

    Cooking on a plane is complicated. There’s the equipment factor, the flight attendant factor, the 35,000 feet factor. Not all dishes stand up (cf. Taste on a Plane). So extensive testing is a must, investment in physical equipment and not just the food itself is a must, and exensive flight attendant training is a must.

    When Asiana had on onboard sushi chef making rolled to order sushi in first class on their Los Angeles route a couple of years ago, that was both a gimmick worth marketing buzz and a real signal of quality. Asiana does some of the best meal preparation in the sky, in my experience (any current complaints about cutbacks not withstanding, I still consider them excellent). That even helps make up for first class seats that while ‘new’ are a generation behind many of their competitors’.

    Continental isn’t Asiana. But a decision to invest in soft product is a good step, and a hopeful indication that the world economy may be bringing back premium class travel.

  • About Gary Leff

    Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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    1. The domestic first class meals could use a little more variation. It feels that through most of 2009 there were three choices: cheeseburger, shrimp salad, some ribs thing (which I never had). Too often I had two or more Continental cheeseburgers in one week. That said, better that than nothing.

    2. 2-13-10: CO, MCO to EWR. Menu: salad, cream of mushroom soup, choice of ruben or short ribs. I had the latter. Very nice. Had it been in a local restaurant, I would quite likely order them again another night. Hot meals for all in coach.

      1-1-10: US, Costa Rica to CLT. Cold “chef’s” salad. Two croutons, two not-ripe tomato wedges, several cubes of cheese that were dried along the edges, three slices of “steak” (think deli roast beef). Coach meals were at a fee and “we might not have enough for everyone”.

      There’s a reason why so many people here list US as the number one airline on the “most likely to fail” list.

      Personally, I switched in 03 from US to CO and this recent trip was the end of my accumulated miles on that old US account. Even then, it was only because of their “use-em or lose-em” policy.

    3. As a CLT flyer if I have to connect in IAH I’m usually running from 1 gate to another. That crappy cheeseburger did hit the spot one day since I didn’t have time to buy anything in the airport. I haven’t been able to try the up front meals, but the free food in coach does come in handy sometimes.

    4. To add to excellent meals in the sky, long haul austrian airlines are extremely good. its a shame that their C seat and IFE are very dated, but the on board chef and food is generally fantastic.

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