Thursday, September 4, 2008

United reverses course on meals

After introducing the new policy last week that, United Airlines reversed course today: the airline will not charge Coach passengers for meals on its transatlantic flights. Graham Atkinson, United's Chief Customer Officer, put it this way:
“The response from you and many of our corporate and Mileage Plus elite customers, even before we launched the test, told us what we would have undoubtedly learned had we proceeded - you value our hot meal service in economy class for international flights.”
Up to a point, I applaud the change of course by United. Mostly, though, I remain astonished that United ever thought of this idea. As I observed last Monday, no U.S. carrier charges for meals on its international flights, and with good reason: these are the most profitable (and sometimes the only profitable) routes that they fly. It caught me off guard that United--the only airline that has a "Chief Customer Officer," whose job is ostensibly to put customer issues first--would choose this issue to be a trendsetter.

The United Chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association apparently agrees. On the day of the original announcement, the Chapter asserted that "the real reason for the meal charges was to enable the airline to further reduce flight attendant staffing, which would make onboard service noticeably worse."

Captain Steve Wallach, the Chapter's chairman, took advantage of the reversal to reiterate his low opinion of United CEO Glenn Tilton, calling the airline, "a misguided ship under Mr. Tilton's direction."

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