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Flyers to United: Kiss Our Loyalty Goodbye

"Outrageous!"

"Dumber than dumb."

"Bloodsuckers!"

"Booooooooo!"

"Go to Hell!"

Those are just a few of the choice (and printable) comments SmarterTravel.com readers had for United after learning that the airline had stooped to a once-unthinkable low: cutting meal service in coach class on Europe flights and in business class on domestic flights.

As detailed in a recent blog posting, United has opted to boost revenue through a variety of food-service cuts and price hikes that will take affect October 1. We asked you to tell us how these changes will affect your flight choices and loyalty. Overall, it seems like United will lose a lot of business if flyers follow through on threats to fly other airlines and get out of United's frequent flyer program.

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The vast majority of respondents (91 percent) said they would avoid flying United when booking coach flights to Europe. About two thirds of those individuals said they would make a point to not fly United to Europe at any time and the remaining one third said they wouldn't fly United unless they were unable to find cheaper fares elsewhere. The following are some points they expressed:

  • "Why fly American carriers to Europe, when the European lines offer much better service at the same price!"
  • "I think not feeding, or charging their exorbitant rates for food, is unacceptable and I will do everything not to fly the airline. Our family of four takes one international flight per year but we can put our money elsewhere (like in our car's gas tank to tour the USA.)"
  • "Words fail me as I have an October 26 flight booked from Dulles to Frankfurt. It will be the last time!"
  • "I don't always have time to purchase food before reaching a connecting eight-hour flight to Europe. I can't possibly go that long with cheese crackers and protein bars. It amazes me a business can endure with absolutely no customer service."

Eighty-one percent of business flyers said they'd avoid flying United's business class domestically because of the airline's decision to charge for meals in that class of service. A much smaller number said United's new policy wouldn't affect their airline choice because they either had too many miles with United to give them up (2 percent) or they usually bring their own food (4 percent). Another 13 percent said they don't care. Here are a few of the business flyers' comments:

  • "Charging extra for food on top of the outrageous business-class price?? Do they really believe this will offset the amount of business they will lose and the number of once-loyal passengers that will be looking elsewhere for better service(s) from the competitors? Just add the $5 to the ticket price and serve the meals."
  • "I am a very high-end travel agent and this will be very hard to sell to my clients spending thousands of dollars."
  • "Business class seats are already ridiculously overpriced, and the food served is barely edible, the wines lousy and cheap. United should look to top notch carriers like Air New Zealand to see what real business class service is all about."

Overall, it seems United's move will adversely affect the loyalty of customers enrolled in the Mileage Plus frequent flyer program. Fifteen percent of respondents said they planned to drop out of the program immediately while the majority (48 percent) said they plan to burn their remaining United miles and then switch to another airline. Five percent claimed they will cancel credit cards tied to the program. The remaining respondents said either their loyalty won't be affected (11 percent) or they aren't sure what they will do yet (21 percent). Some highlights from the frequent flyers' responses:

  • "This is just another way of ripping off long time loyal customers. As a 1K traveler with United for years I am going to give them the same consideration they gave me—None."
  • "I have not found a decently priced flight on United in a long time. Using my miles will also cost more with their high taxes. After 30 years of loyalty to United, it's time to fly away."
  • "As a long standing Premier Executive member of United's Mileage Plus program, I have faithfully flown with UA at every opportunity. Now I will consider other carriers for all my travel. Nixing the meal service for international travel along with the impossibility of getting any International business class award tickets has me disillusioned to the max."

Do you have a different take on United's meal-service changes or suggestions for how to cope? Post a comment below.

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