United Adding First Class Meals to Flights of Just 800 Miles

As American and US Airways split the difference on meal service and eliminate meals from nearly all flights under 1000 miles, United decides to go the opposite direction.

Scott Mayerowitz reports that United will add back meals in domestic first class for flights of 800 miles or more.

That would make United the most generous of the big 3, since Delta is sandwiched in the middle at 900 miles.

And it makes one wonder if the elimination of garlic bread and ketchup from some flights was a head fake, or sympomatic of a schizophrenic management at United that can’t seem to come to and communicate a consistent strategy for the company.

After massive cutbacks to its mileage program and a belief that its over-entitled customers are the problem, they’re adding something back. Surprising for a company on a quest for $2 billion in cost cuts. And yet welcomed, with trepidation.

I’d focus on the IT systems still, personally, to ensure tickets are issued and re-issued properly and mileage credits correctly. Those are bigger fish to fry.

But meals matter, too.

A hot meal on a two-hour flight might not sound like a necessity, but for busy frequent fliers it might be the only chance to grab a bite.

“Business travelers, running from a meeting to catch an earlier flight, don’t have the time stop and pick up food along the way,” says Gary Leff, co-founder of online frequent flier discussion site MilePoint

I loved pre-merger American, where I’d get meals on the 612 mile DC – Chicago flight… just like I used to get years ago even on United. Back in the day a DC-10 dinner flight from O’Hare to Baltimore could mean crab cakes. More recently on American it probably meant stuffed shells.

I don’t necessarily make flight choices based on the food, but when you spend so many miles and so many days with an airline captive in a metal tube, running to make flights, and making short connections sometimes what they provide is the difference between eating something or not. And having one less thing to worry about is a phenomenal way to really take care of customers.

That’s why meals matter, even if all things equal I’d rather skip the meal and not have my tray table too full for my laptop.

The United meal window changes don’t start until February (far enough out that it could still not happen). And apparently according to Mayerowitz only give meals to 13 more flightsroutes. But it’s an important symbol, and lets United claim to serve meals on the shortest flights out of their major competitors.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Didn’t they move it from 900 miles to 800? This couldn’t affect more than a few dozen pax a day. It’s a rounding error.

    I think they said they were also going to “significantly” improve int’l economy meals. No details, though. This could be a significant deal, as it would affect many thousands of pax a day.

    As a 1K, I was hoping they would adopt the AA practice of giving their ExecPlat’s a free sandwich in coach. That would be a MEANINGFUL change, as it would have real value and be predictable (otherwise, these days, domestically, you’re never really sure if you’re going to get any food on board, even if you’re very familiar with the airline).

  2. @iahphx
    I think at the very least the drink chits should work for tapas boxes which are just a buck or two more than the drinks the chits get for free, but I do think that it should be across the board 1K+ gets a free tapa box or something like that.

  3. Apologies for lack of clarity, I should have said ‘routes’ and not ‘flights’ (by which I meant routes, rather than frequencies). I have edited the word above.

  4. It’ll be interesting to see what the meals turn out to be. Hopefully it’ll be something worthwhile.

    The ability to get an omelet, sausage and coffee in the morning on AC YYC-YVR and YYZ-YUL is one of the reason I frequently use my upgrade credits on those short routes.

  5. starting in Feb 2015, why 6 months away?? BTW, how much you do want to bet by Feb 2015 the meals will be dummy down…

  6. I hit a peak of $40K annual spend and 375K EQM/PQM a few years back. So far this year I have not flown on UA. It will take a lot more that a meal to win me back.

  7. Still excludes ORD-NYC/WAS, but now adds ORD-BOS (867), ORD-DEN (888), ORD-DFW (802), LAX-PDX (835), DEN-LAX (862)… Those are just the routes I’ve flown and can think of off hand. ORD-DEN is pretty high volume and easily affects “more than a few dozen pax a day”.

  8. Gobluetwo —

    Remember, it also has to be a meal at “mealtime” — which isn’t generously interpreted.

    An airline serving more food is always better than an airline serving less food but for most travelers — including this UA 1K — I’m unlikely to ever benefit from this minor change.

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