US Airways Sends Me 2 Bottles of Wine, Are They Drinkable?

The American Airlines and US Airways CEOs sat down to pitch their merger earlier in the month to the New York Times, and I was quoted nine times in the ensuing piece.

I received a package from US Airways as a followup to those quotes, and I wanted to talk about what was in it and share their side of things.

Now, I’ve been quoted in several media outlets recently on the merger. But such is still the power of the Times I suppose that that’s the one which got the attention of US Airways management.

I have actually been extremely friendly towards the merger, at least compared to most commentators — which is to say that I’m lukewarm and not openly hostile. I would have preferred to see American Airlines remain a standalone airline. It has the best top tier elite program, I believe, and does a pretty good job with inflight product. So I don’t like changes which risk that.

But I’ve also been clear that while there will be some winners and losers in the merger (some routes with easier upgrades, some with harder upgrades, integration pains the first few days of the merger probably, and an accelerated re-evaluation of many of the best features of both frequent flyer programs that putt hose in greater immediate jeopardy than otherwise — though in most cases just speeding up decisions that would already get made, I think) there’s not really anything concrete at this point to object to nor are the concerns all that major as far as mergers go.

Nonetheless, I did make the point in the piece that American offers a superior inflight product to US Airways and my fear is that they ‘split the difference’ rather than raising the legacy US Airways offerings to American standards. US Airways CEO Doug Parker, who will run the combined airline, is on record clearly believing that what’s important is to run an on-time airline not to offer frills. To a large extent he’s right, of course. And despite this it’s US Airways that pioneered the business class seat that would become the best in the sky. But I still lament even the possible loss of meal service for flights under three and a half hours!

The letter I received (reproduced below) came from US Airways’ Vice President for Corporate Communications and came with two bottles of wine that they serve in international business class. (Pizza in Motion got the same letter, and plans a giveaway for his wine.)

Now, the 2011 William Hill Central Coast cab is about a $16 – $18 bottle, not a particularly inspired choice but in all ways completely inoffensive. I haven’t tried this Pinot Grigio but I expect that it’s similar in stature.

I’ve said that international business class is all about the seat and US Airways has a good one (American is rolling out a newer version currently).

I’m not even concerned how good the food is, above a certain level, because usually business class and domestic first class food isn’t all that great which is ok. The idea is it should be perfectly edible, and not all that unhealthy, so you don’t go hungry in the air. I’ll leave it to first class products to try to mimic a top restaurant in the sky (while the food is often good, it is rarely ever great no matter how hard they try — and yet that doesn’t mean I won’t much enjoy it).

What I don’t want to see is the combined airline cost cut to drop service down to US Airways levels. The last time – admittedly two years ago – that I flew DC-Phoenix in US Airways first class it was an ex-American West crew and cabin and wine at dinner was served in plastic cups.

Doug Parker has already addressed my number one concern, which reservation system platform they’d go with (almost certainly American’s — which everyone should rejoice at). If the airline would announce no reduction in meals on sub-3 hour flights, no intention of removing first class seats to conform to the number of seats on US Airways planes (there’s been no contrary suggestion, of course, just spitballing potential negatives), and no changes to American’s generous international upgraeds, I would become a downright booster of this merger. Because I happen to live 10 minutes from Washington’s National airport, which in recent times US Airways has talked up as a hub.

I don’t intend to keep the wine, by the way, I will give it away to frequent flyers somehow (not on the blog, darned interstate shipping laws, but perhaps at Frequent Traveler University).

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Gary,

I’d like to first start off by thanking you for being a US Airways customer. We value your business and hope you continue to fly with us. After reading Stephanie Rosenbloom’s New York Times article “The Getaway: If American and US Airways Merger, What Should Fliers Expect?” I wanted to personally reach out to you and let you know we’re listening to your feedback and value your opinion.

First, we don’t want you to go hungry! You may be pleased to know that US Airways is redefining the inflight experience for our customers. Recently (April 1, and no, this isn’t an April Fools prank) we launched several onboard enhancements. We introduced a continental-style breakfast on-the-go that includes a yogurt smoothie, croissant, almond butter, jam and (if there’s still room after all of that, a mint) in the First Class cabin on overnight coast-to-coast flights. In addition, we have added a new snack basket with popular brands that you will recognize and love (well, we love them anyway) along with the meal service. We’ve also introduced Dos Equis beer, a Mexican lager, to provide our customers with additional choices as they travel with us.

Yes, we may be the most interesting airline in the world.

In all seriousness, while these are just a few changes we’ve made recently, I assure you that you will see more enhancements in the very near future. We are listening to our most elite customers and using that feedback to provide you with a more comfortable travel experience, and just wanted to update you.

As a token of our good faith efforts, enclosed in this package you will find a menu of our award-winning wines and thought you might enjoy a sample. I’ve also included an overview of our enhancements that launched this month.

I hope that you enjoy these wines in good spirits (like that play on words?) as you look forward to our inflight changes to come. I’d like to also extend an invitation to “Unplugged,” US Airways’ annual Media Day, Wednesday April 24 at our Corporate Headquarters in Tempe, Arizona. [Information on Media Day and how to register removed] We’d love to see you there. Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any questions or would just like to chat.

John McDonald
US Airways
Vice President, Corporate Communications

I was of course unavailable for media day already since its the day before the Freddie Awards ceremony at USA Today headquarters in Northern Virginia, and I’ll be busy preparing for that.

I do plan to reach out to Mr. McDonald, though, not that corporate communications is the best way to get feedback to the various powers-that-be about what’s important as they go forward with the merger.

US Airways does have a nice snack basket, though that’s not as important to me as actual meals. I’m not overly impressed by the service enhancements, but I get that they are at least paying attention to these things while watching their pennies carefully. The US Airways stock ticket symbol ‘LCC’ is indicative of where they’ve been, this is the airline that tried charging for water for awhile. No question they will ‘get’ that American flies different routes with different customers and needs to offer a different product. I just hope to get through the advice not to dilute the American product.

None of which, of course, is reason to oppose the merger at the level of government approvals. It should sail through, though ultimately with some divestiture of slots at US Airways — which will mean less service to small communities, as Parker predicted in front of Congress, but will happen because it’s an opportunity for the two airlines’ competitors to extract slots out of the process.

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. i have big problem with aadvantage program. They must be honest and let us redeem AA miles online for any partner award flights. They say they are one world and have partner airlines and can redeem miles but I don’t like it when you have to waste your time on phone to book award flights. It takes one hour to get an agent and another hour just to get availability information. It is PIA to redeem AA miles on international award flights. AA also wants more miles than need 40k united mile for one way trip to India, but 45 AA miles. You don’t have to make phone calls and waste hours on phone to book star alliance flights with united.

  2. @jim – do research for available award seats on the Qantas and British AIrways award booking websites, then call American with the flights you have already found 🙂

  3. gary, that is the problem, you shouldn’t have to waste hours on phone or third party sites to find just the availability information. you don’t know how long it takes to get an agent and than how long it takes for them to give you the information. They can do what united already does

  4. Here’s the note from a CellarTracker poster on the William Hill.
    Unremarkable and unoffensive. The fact that restaurants pour this for $8-$10 glass shows why you should always avoid the house wine. This is wine to pour for your friends who don’t drink wine. this is ripe, syrupy, oak pellet wine. Overall rating 86, but you expected that.

    No info is available on the other wine; but you expected that too! 😀

  5. You obviously fly much more than I do, so I defer to your expertise. But FWIW, I recently transitioned over to US Air as my principle airline, away from United, and I have been very happy with the switch. I don’t find the in-flight service to be noticeably different, and if anything US Air crews are friendlier. Some cabins are nicer than others, but that’s true of United as well. I am looking forward to the AA merger, but I just don’t find the delta between US Air-level service and amenities and United/AA service and amenities to be that large.

  6. I’m glad he “waned” to personally reach out to you.

    Good attention to detail, there, US AIRWAYS.

  7. I hope all the spelling mistakes were yours in copying the letter and not how the letter arrived from US Airways!

  8. I am tempted to wish for the US AIrways system, just so NA to Asia awards can be routed via Europe on a single award, a huge disadvantage to the AA program, IMO. Or better yet, maybe AA will loosen their rules…

  9. No wonder they sent you wine – you’ve been downplaying the fact that the merger offers no real benefits whatsoever to AA elites! (Yes, there’s nothing concrete to object to…yet, but nor is there anything to get excited about).

  10. Gary, really no reason to keep referencing the “wine served in plastic cups with your meal” two years ago. It’s widely known, and can be verified by anyone who has flown US in the past year and a half, that drinks are now served in glassware on meal flights.

  11. @jacob not downplaying anything, the NYT quoted me as saying i would have preferred AA remain separate. I don’t see much upside for most AA elites.

  12. Most certainly they are drinkable. I’d say these are two bottles I’d serve cold to very cold:) nice gesture to gain favor. I’m waiting on my bottle of Glenlivit or whatever Scotch / Bourbon US Airways serves…

  13. These airlines are getting so good at getting buy-in from the bloggers, when the program is turned upside down by Parker, you will say it was to be expected….customers get screwed, bloggers get credit card signup revenue, I love good old American capitalism

  14. When Parker and AirWest bought US they took it down to AirWest’s level. American will be taken down to that level too.

    It’s all about the bottom line.

  15. The other wine is a Pinot Grigio. Even if its worth more than $15, it isn’t. Pinot Grigio’s in general are known as light, inoffensive, drinkable wines. Something you consume in summer at a picnic. It can’t possibly be great.

  16. The most interesting thing about this blog post are the photos of US Airways int’l wine selections. As you note, the red is mediocre and about $16/bottle. I don’t know much about the quality of the white, but I “googled it” and it’s about $13. I’m now curious about the quality/expense of what the other int’l airlines serve. Given how much trivia is written about airline food, I’m surprised I haven’t seen a story with a nice chart comparing the wine selections of the airlines. Does any airline spring for a truly special/expensive bottle of wine in biz class? I tend to doubt it, but now I’m curious.

  17. I can’t understand why they bothered to send out the poor wine along with a nice letter. Were it for me, I would take it as insult.

  18. I just hope that they keep the upgrade priority based on the US Airway system of miles flown, not the AA system of first to request. I usually buy flights a week out in advance, which kills my upgrade rates even as an AA Exec Plat. I’ve been top tier as a US Air Chairman before and I miss it.

  19. Flew a recent trip, AA one way, US returning. AA service was great – real snack meal, drinks in glass and even warm nuts. Return on US had no meal, just an offering of chips and pretzles and horrible wine served in plastic. Oh, and the plan was old as dirt – not that the MD80s aren’t either, but it really showed. As for the US crews being friendlier – I can’t say I found that to be the case.

  20. Nice of them to send you wine! They kept me sitting on a plane for 6 hours at FRA recently during a snow storm and they don’t feel like I should get anything. They said I was a valued customer too after paying $5800 for the Envoy ticket but offered nothing at all for the inconvenience.

  21. US Airways treats travelers like garbage. Their lack of customer service will continue as travelers have less options for airlines. It is a shame that making money is the only thing that the US Airways execs value. Flying used to be a pleasure and a special event for children. Now families are meant to feel like an inconvenience to the airlines. Another slap in the face is that your miles disappear if you don’t travel on their airline frequently.

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