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United Cuts Free Meals in Transatlantic Coach and Domestic Business

This year, the airlines have been busily packing on the extra fees and cutting services. However, there have been a few “sacred cows” the carriers have avoided messing with: international flights and upper-class services. Unfortunately, United just decided to commit sacrilege. The airline will cut free meals in coach class on Europe flights and in business class on domestic flights.

According to an internal United memo obtained by members of the press, these cuts will be implemented October 1. Coach passengers flying from Washington Dulles, United’s primary departure point for Europe flights with 33 daily departures, will now have to buy food separately if they want to eat. Snack boxes will be available for $6 and sandwiches and salads for $9. These same food options will also be available to business travelers on domestic flights, who previously were entitled to free meals. Drinks will remain free in business class. By the way, those food prices are higher than what United currently charges for snack boxes ($5) and sandwiches ($7). Further, United will cut free snacks in coach class on domestic flights of two to three hours and cut the second snack service on flights between New York and San Francisco.

“These changes are difficult, but necessary, and we do not make them lightly,” wrote United in its memo. “However, they enable us to reduce costs and generate additional revenue while preserving a differentiated product for our premium cabin customers.”

The last part of that statement is interesting, as United seems to be saying that it’s making first class look better by making its coach and business class worse. What’s next, earn additional revenue and make first class look even better by allowing livestock to be shipped in coach and business class?

Coach passengers are used to getting the short end of the stick, so these developments probably won’t come as much of a surprise. However, I doubt the domestic business-class passengers, many of whom are loyal frequent flyers, will take the changes lightly. They’re already overpaying for business-class seating (business and first class traditionally subsidize the much lower coach fares) and now they don’t even get a lousy grilled chicken breast and side salad? United had better be prepared to lose some of its highest paying customers to other airlines.

Unfortunately, now that United has crossed this line, other carriers may follow. It took a few weeks for other airlines to replicate American’s loathed first-checked-bag fee, but United, US Airways, and Northwest did eventually. It’s probably only a matter of time before everyone will have to hit up the airport food court before boarding Europe flights.

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