United Airlines to start charging business class passengers for meals

by Janice Hough on August 20, 2008

Looks like the free ride is over for folks sitting in the front of the plane. Elite-level fliers who have escaped higher fees for everything from checked luggage to seat assignments will have to pay up if they want to chow down on United Airlines this fall.

The beleaguered airline plans to begin charging business class customers for meals on most domestic flights. And in a first for major carriers, United will charge economy class passengers for meals on many international flights as well.

Adding insult to injury, United is also raising its food prices effective Oct. 1. Snack boxes will go up to $6, salads and sandwiches will go up to $9. According to the United memo on the decision, it’s all about rising costs (read: fuel prices).

In the wake of high fuel prices and a challenging economic environment, we must continue to examine every aspect of our business and find new ways to improve our day-to-day operations through efficiencies that still meet our customers’ expectations.

There’s no mention of the fact that fuel prices have actually been dropping lately — along with customers’ expectations.

The memo also says United will cut meals and go to “buy-on-board” in international economy class on flights from Washington-Dulles to Europe.

Apparently the savings will also allow United to cut flight attendants in domestic business class because they won’t have to serve meals.  And even on the premium P.S. transcontinental service, which is keeping the “free” meals, United will cut its pre-arrival snack.

Perhaps United should get some small credit for being democratic with their latest efforts to squeeze more money out of passengers. But business travelers are the lifeblood of major carriers, and the higher fares they generate generally subsidize the passengers in the back of the plane.

Does United really want to antagonize them too? I guess we’re about to find out.

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  • Wrona

    Okay I’m now officially casting my vote for Untied to be the first of the legacies to fail.

  • Hemlock for Gadflies

    I vote for United to go the way of Pan Am, too. Because, you know, when I spend $8,000 on a business class ticket — as I recently did — it’s just Krazy Talk to expect some sub-standard free food.

    Next — cessation of free drink service in business class and installation of smaller seats to “enhance” the “revenue stream” in that part of the cabin on any flight < 10 hours duration. Watch for it — I make it to be within the next 5 months, even as jet fuel prices continue to decline.

    Frankly I just wish they’d increase prices and be done with it — announce an across-the-board 25% increase in all fares. It would amount to the same thing and at least have the benefit of honesty.

  • anonymous

    It is time for all legacy carrier to consider and just double their domestic and international prices across the board and put back the amenities. Why don’t you take a page from RyanAir and EasyJet and slap advertising on every surface inside the plane??

    Skipping free meals on Trans-Atlantic routes are lunacy, what’s next, skipping meals on trans-pac routes?? Charging for liquids on trans-oceanic routes??

  • mindy

    I’m sort of thinking this must be a hoax?!

  • http://backpackers-world.net/ Jonathan Barden

    i have to say im not a bit suprised.
    This sort of thing has be on the cards for quite some time, i mean if the low cost budget airlines like Easy jet and Ryane Air do it and we expect it then it was only a matter of time this would translate to the bigger air lines.
    this is the beginning of the end of air travel as we know it

  • Joe Farrell

    20 Nov, 2008 – Chicago – Reuters Newsire:

    “United Airlines today announced that will be partnering with Subway which will take over one of the handicapped lavs on all its transcontinental and international flights and offering Subway sandwiches in the air. Called JaredAirSnacks, but having the subway logo and colors, the company will soon be offering its $5 sandwich menu in the air on all long haul routes United flies. The position will be staffed by a full trained subway employee from China, who does not object to working both the outbound and return flights, for a total duty day approaching 18 hours. The unit, which will be self-contained and still have a toilet for the employee, along with running water for washing hands , can be restocked in less than 20 minutes.

    The kiosk will provide the limited menu of $5 subs but not drinks or chips, which will be sold by the airline. Service will begin in a staggered fashion immediately as the kiosks installs are completed.

    In related news, McDonalds stated that it was exploring opening a franchise inside airline toilet cubicles as well, leading the industry to wonder if the smell of McDonalds fries cooking would soon fill aircraft cabins across the world.

  • Hemlock for Gadflies

    I like anonymous’ idea — advertising!

    “Uhh, from the cockpit, folks, this is your First Officer. Welcome aboard United Airlines Flight 100, non-stop service from New York to London’s Heathrow, brought to you today by Ex-Lax. Feeling bound up? Bloated? Can’t quite get right? Try Ex-Lax and its new, improved taste. Ex-Lax. Yesssss, Ex-Lax, for all your in-flight lavatorial needs. We’ll be cruising at an altitude of….”

  • pascalPierre

    I won’t consider myself as a frequent Flyer though I have accrued about 126,000 miles within 2 years using United and other Star Alliance companies and about 50,000 flying Airfrance-Klm. United was OK but it’s getting worse and worse. I travel for leisure NOT business so I usually use economy. On EU-USA flights, United was OK but with their new policy of checked luggage, meal for purchase and so on, they are gonna lose a lot of customers. European Airlines still offer meals and beverages on ALL flights ( including Domestic) and people are ready to pay that extra money to get a decent meal. The only good thing with UA was that you could accrue 100% mileage even on discount fares….That being said, Trans-Pac flights on UA are much better since the food they serve seems better quality, hence highre prices. compared to Trans-atlantic routes.
    LAX-Sydney and Las-Melbourne for example.
    I flew Air NZ to Auckland last April and they know what service means!!!! even in economy you are treated to local wines, which UA charge you about 5 bucks.
    I think UA will have to change their policy on international routes because European and Asian companies offer better value for the money you pay. As for domestic, there is little competion in the USA, I mean there is NO international airline so they can do pretty much what they want. If one decides to scrap the meals, everyone will follow suite. So paying $ 3,000 for a RT business between JFK and HNL will be meaningless if you have to pay an extra $XX for meals. Go for economy then.

  • eazye

    untrue. United, just as all other international airlines is improving their business and first class products while making cattle class even worse. revenue from biz customers is very important. secondly, united won’t go the way of Pan Am because frankly, United is a better airline than most other US carriers. look at delta for example… Business Elite!?!?!?! compare that to United’s First Class… pfff

  • http://leftcoastsportsbabe.com Janice Hough

    Thanks for commenting. United changed their policy after people complained about this change. They are keeping free meals in business domestically BUT they are now just the snack boxes that they charge for in coach. International business and first haven’t changed, and they put back the meals in the back, such as they are. My guess is they will try other trial balloons but you are right that business and first international are the best they have. I do think the Asian carriers are mostly better though, and BA has ALL flat bed business class seats as opposed to just a few planes.

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