Monday, March 7, 2011

No Pretzels on Continental

What a difference a year makes. 

Going into 2010, Continental was the only airline that still offered complimentary meals in Coach.  Last March, it joined its peers in eliminating Coach-class meal service.

Going into 2011, Continental--now part of United Continental Holdings, but still operating as a distinct carrier--was among the few airlines that still offered complimentary pretzels (or biscotti to accompany coffee on morning flights).  Now, it is joining its peers in cutting those as well.

The move leaves Delta as the only legacy carrier that still offers free pretzels, though low-cost carriers JetBlue, AirTran, and Southwest continue to offer free snacks. 

It also follows a wider industry trend of replacing free amenities common to all passengers with options for passengers to buy specific amenities that they want.  Continental, for instance, sells a variety of snack boxes and fresh-food items on its flights.

Should we be surprised?  Definitely not.

After years of losses, airlines are finally profitable again.  But the conflict in Libya has driven oil prices as high as $106 a barrel as of this writing, which is about $20 higher than airlines had expected when they wrote their profit forecasts for the year.

Pretzels may not seem pricey, but eliminating them will save Continental $3.9 million annually.  It will also tempt passengers to buy snack boxes, which start at $3.95 -- potentially adding millions in new revenue.

For years now, Americans in particular have signed onto a bandwagon of lower prices and a-la-carte services.  We're getting what we asked for.  We're just going to have to live with it.

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